President Bush in Crawford, Texas, reacting today to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto

WASHINGTON – President Bush demanded justice for those responsible for killing former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

“The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan’s democracy,” Bush said. “Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice.”

Bush, delivering brief remarks from a hangar near his Crawford, Texas, ranch, expressed condolences to Bhutto’s family and the people of Pakistan.

“Mrs. Bhutto served her nation twice as prime minister, and she knew that her return to Pakistan earlier this year put her life at risk, yet she refused to allow assassins to dictate the course of her country,” Bush said.

“We stand with the people of Pakistan in their struggle against the forces of terror and extremism. We urge them to honor Benazir Bhutto’s memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life,” said the president.

The U.S. has for months been encouraging President Pervez Musharraf to reach some kind of political accommodation with the opposition, particularly Bhutto, who was seen as having a wide base of support. Her party has been widely expected to do well in parliamentary elections set for next month.

U.S. relations with Pakistan, a close ally in the war on terrorism, have been strained since Musharraf late last year declared emergency rule.

President Bush had repeatedly urged a return to normalcy, and Musharraf ultimately gave up his position as head of the army.

Congress yesterday authorized $300 million in aid to Pakistan but restricted part of the money out of concern that the country is backsliding on anti-terrorism efforts and democratic reform.

But the instability in Pakistan jeopardized the investment of billions of dollars in foreign and military assistance the U.S. regularly sends to nuclear power.

An unnamed State Department official condemned the assassination.

“The attack shows that there are still those in Pakistan trying to undermine reconciliation and democratic development,” the official said.

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