The world has strongly condemned a bomb attack in Pakistan on Thursday that killed opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.
The 54-year old Bhutto, leader of Pakistan People's Party, had returned to Pakistan after an eight-year exile on Oct. 18 for the upcoming presidential elections early next year.
Shortly after the attack, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf appealed to the nation to remain peaceful "so that the evil designs of terrorists can be defeated."
Musharraf also held an emergency meeting at the presidency to deal with Bhutto’s sudden death. She was fatally shot minutes after she addressed a rally of supporters in the city of Rawalpindi. The attacker blew himself up immediately after shooting her.
China strongly condemned the Bhutto's assassination on Thursday and extended condolences to the families of Bhutto and other victims.
India, whose ties with Pakistan have been unsteady in the past, condemned Bhutto’s murder, calling it a tragedy and a terrible blow to their neighbor's democratic process.
"The manner of her passing is a reminder of the common dangers that our region faces from cowardly acts of terrorism and of the need to eradicate this dangerous threat," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement.
Bhutto 's death "left a deep imprint on her time and age," Singh said, adding that her desire to improve relations with India was "exemplary."
The UN Security Council is set to meet in an emergency session later on Thursday to discuss the situation in Pakistan following the killing of Bhutto, UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.
Okabe said the 15-member council would meet at noon (1700 GMT) to assess the situation in the country.
The European Union (EU) called the assassination "an attack against democracy and against Pakistan."
President Jose Manuel Barroso of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, said in a statement that the bloc condemns this callous terrorist attack in the strongest terms.
"This is an attack against democracy and against Pakistan," he said. "We hope that Pakistan will remain firmly on track for a return to democratic civilian rule," he added.
The United States lashed out at the suicide attack, urging the killers to be brought to justice. Bush has strongly condemned the Bhutto’s assassination.
"We stand with the people of Pakistan in the struggle against the forces of terror and extremism," Bush said.
"The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy. Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice," Bush said in a statement to reporters at his Texas ranch.
George W. Bush also called his Pakistani counterpart Pervez Musharraf on Thursday to discuss the situation after the killing of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.
Bush, who is vacationing in his ranch in Crawford, Texas, called Musharraf at 12:15 pm (1815 GMT), Stanzel said, without disclosing details of the phone call.
A Russian foreign ministry spokesman condemned the attack, stating, "We denounce the act and express our condolences to Bhutto 's relatives and friends."
Mikhail Kamynin urged Pakistani authorities to do everything possible in this crucial period in order to ensure stability in the country.
Russia also urged "all responsible forces in Pakistan" to "show maximum self-control" following Thursday's assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, the foreign ministry said in a statement posted on its website.
"It is particularly important now that all responsible political forces in Pakistan show maximum self-control, ignore extremist provocations and do everything possible to deal a decisive blow to international terrorist forces that are actively trying to take advantage of the difficult situation in Pakistan during the run-up to the parliamentary elections scheduled for January 8, 2008," the ministry said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a message of condolence to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf regarding the terrorist act on Thursday and hoped that those responsible would be found and punished, the Kremlin press service said.
"We learned with deep regret of a barbarous terrorist act in the city of Rawalpindi on December 27, in which many people were killed, including the leader of the Pakistan People's Party, ex- Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto," Putin said in his message to President Pervez Musharraf.
"We hope the masterminds of that crime will be found and will face their deserved punishment," Putin said. "This is a defiance bid by forces of terrorism not only to Pakistan, but also to the whole international community."
"Expressing our solidarity with the Pakistani people at this tragic time, I ask you to convey my sincere deep condolences to the next of kin of the victims, and wish an early recovery to those who were injured as a result of the terrorist act," he said.
David Miliband, British foreign secretary, voiced shock at the killing and called for restraint.
"In targeting Benazir Bhutto, extremist groups have in their sights all those committed to democratic processes in Pakistan. They cannot and must not succeed," he said in a statement.
France condemned the attack in sharp words, calling it "an odious act."
A statement said Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner "expresses his deep emotion following the attack which has cost the life of Benazir Bhutto, whom he knew personally."
"He reaffirms our country's attachment to Pakistan's stability and its democracy, which should be the center of attention for the whole international community," it said.
Several other countries including Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, Egypt, Belgium, Germany, Iran, Canada, Greece, Jordan, Turkey and India, also condemned the attack.
(Xinhua News Agency December 28, 2007)