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Bhutto vigil draws a small crowd
Prayers and Pakistani poetry honor the assassinated leader.
By THOMAS LAKE, Times Staff Writer
Published December 29, 2007
R. Girwar-Nath, of Tampa, places flowers beneath a picture of assassinated former Prime Minister of Pakistan Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square in Tampa during a memorial service.
[Edmund D. Fountain | Times]
TAMPA - Night fell. Storefronts went dark. Workers fled for the suburbs, leaving a thicket of empty skyscrapers.
Then, in Courthouse Square, lights flickered. People gathered beneath the open-air dome. They stared at a photograph mounted on an easel: a woman, regal and serene, with dark lashes and glossy lips and a white scarf around her head.
The woman was Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan. She was assassinated Thursday at the age of 54. Now, on the following night, in a medium-sized American city nearly 8,000 miles away, a handful of mourners held an unlikely vigil.
The photograph came from Google Images. Beth Sutkowy, a legislative assistant for state Sen. Ronda Storms, downloaded it and took it to Staples to be enlarged.
The senator from Valrico organized the vigil. She said she wanted to honor a fellow female politician - one who gave her life for her people. Storms invited other local politicians, but this was not a convenient week.
"What we found," she said, "is pretty much everybody's not in town."
The media dutifully came out, toting audiovisual gear, but seemed to outnumber the crowd. Barely 10 regular people showed up.
Storms waited until 7:05 p.m., hoping for stragglers, and then she got started.
"I'm sorry that we didn't have more people come today," she said, looking slightly flustered, and then read a short history of Bhutto's life.
Besides reporters, her audience included Nat Girwar-Nath, a Tampa dental hygienist of Indian descent; Rana Younas, a Pakistani grocer with a store on Fowler Avenue; Muhammad Wasim, secretary of the Pakistani-American Association of Tampa Bay; and Mark Nash, a local political observer who decided to attend despite mixed feelings about the whole thing.
"This is politicizing her death," he said, criticizing the senator while holding a candle she had provided, but he found it "unfortunate there weren't more people here tonight."
The vigil rolled on with prayers and Pakistani poetry.
Wasim offered an elegy to Bhutto, and called upon those present to learn from her sacrifice.
Storms stood with her 8-year-old daughter, Roxanna, at her right hand, speaking over the drone of a garbage truck.
"Almighty God," she said, "you tell us blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall see God. And we pray for peace."
The ceremony lasted less than 25 minutes.
"Thank you very much for coming," Storms said, and the crowd began to disperse.