Fiji Sun

SUVA, Fiji (Dec. 29) - The cruel and tragic death of Pakistan's democracy activist Benazir Bhutto has shocked the world. This amazing woman was one of a kind. In what was (and sometimes still is) thought of a male-dominated mostly Muslim nation, she was twice elected prime minister, a post in which she served with style and distinction though her path was ever a controversial one.

She faced charges of corruption and, indeed, her husband was jailed for eight years before being released without a conviction on corruption related charges.

There is evidence that the judge in Mrs Bhutto's case was under pressure from the military to convict her. He did not.

Mrs Bhutto meanwhile had gone into self-imposed exile in Dubai with her three young children though she had always wanted to return to Pakistan which has been plagued over the past three decades by military takeovers, the latest nearly coinciding with Fiji's latest coup a year ago.

But with military strongman General Musharraf declaring a general election next year, Mrs Bhutto was determined to return. In October this year she did so.

She was under no illusions. In a series of interviews before and after her return, she openly declared that she knew her life was in danger. She survived an assassination attempt only a few weeks before the attack that ended her life.

Prophetically, perhaps, she noted in an interview with the BBC that those who wanted to kill her were the ones who had benefited most from the coup and who had reason to fear a return to democratic rule.

She recalled her late father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former prime minister who was executed following yet another military takeover.

Now she has shared his fate.

The civilised world has reacted with revulsion. United States President George W Bush described her as a woman of great courage whose death must not be allowed to end the campaign for democracy in her country. British Prime Minister John Brown said the terrorists must not be allowed to halt the return to democracy in Pakistan.

Mrs Bhutto, whose two brothers also died mysterious deaths, will be buried beside her father in what seems sure to become a shrine to democracy in Pakistan.

Many today will be tempted to draw comparisons between the states of affairs in Pakistan and here in Fiji.

At first glance it may be tempting to do so. Fiji too has been the subject of military takeovers of elected governments over the years, coups which have seriously stunted our growth economically, politically and socially. But, fortunately, we have been spared political assassinations. Our constitution is intact if shakily so. Our courts have managed to retain - again if sometimes unsteadily - the confidence of the people.

We are a far cry from Pakistan. But that certainly does not mean all is well.

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