European politicians joined their counterparts from all over the world in expressing anger and regret over the murder of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, while urging the Muslim and nuclear power-holding country to keep on the path to democracy and refrain from violence.
"I learned with dismay of the assassination of Mrs Benazir Bhutto, Chair of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), today in Rawalpindi," stated European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso on Thursday (27 January), referring to it as a "callous terrorist attack."
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the act was "clearly aimed at destabilising the country and it shows that there are forces and people who are trying to undermine reconciliation and the democratisation process in Pakistan."
Mrs Bhutto, 54, Pakistan's prime minister from 1988 to 1990 and from 1993 to 1996, was shot by a man who then blew himself up and killed around 20 others at an election rally in Rawalpindi.
Her murder happened just ten weeks after she returned to her homeland from eight years in exile. The politician had been the object of threats for speaking out against the spread of Islamic extremism. A bomb on her homecoming parade in late October killed over 140 people.
Speaking at the fateful rally shortly before her death, she said, "I put my life in danger and came here because I feel this country is in danger. People are worried. We will bring the country out of this crisis," the BBC reported.
Several European leaders highlighted Mrs Bhutto's courage for participating in a campaign ahead of the 8 January parliamentary election, in which her PPP party was tipped to win with clear majority.
In a letter to Pakistan's president Pervez Musharraf, French president Nicolas Sarkozy said the murdered politician had paid "with her life for her commitment to the service of her fellow citizens and to Pakistan's political life."
Italian leader Romano Prodi referred to the murdered politician as "a woman who chose to fight her battle until the end with a single weapon -- the one of dialogue and political debate."
In Britain, where Mrs Bhutto had attended Oxford University, prime minister Gordon Brown called her murderers "cowards who are afraid of democracy," adding "this atrocity strengthens our resolve that the terrorists will not win there, here, or anywhere in the world."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also stressed that the attack "targets the stability and democratic process of Pakistan" and along with her European counterparts urged the country's leadership to prevent further violence and political instability.
However, reports from the region suggest the terrorist act -- the Islamist Al Qaeda terrorist network has claimed responsibility -- has ratcheted up the political tension in the world's second most populous Muslim nation.
Angry Bhutto supporters took to the streets, arguing the government did not do enough to protect her. Several gatherings turned into bloody riots with at least 11 people reported killed.
There are fears of more violence just ahead and during Bhutto's funeral on Friday. It will take place in her home village in the southern province of Sindh where she is to be buried next to her father, former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was overthrown in a military coup by Gen Zia ul-Haq in 1977 and executed two years later.