PENNSYLVANIA Sen. Arlen Specter was in a hotel room last night in Islamabad, where he'd traveled to meet the top leaders of Pakistan, including opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, whom he was supposed to have dinner with at 9 p.m. local time.

As the world now knows, Bhutto never made it.

Less than three hours before she was supposed to join the Philadelphian and his traveling companion, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., Bhutto was assassinated by an attacker who shot the former prime minister as she left a campaign rally, then blew himself up, killing at least 20 others.

A stunned Specter said he had learned the news from CNN in his hotel room as he was getting dressed to go out for the dinner appointment.

"We heard, first, that there had been a suicide bomber attempt, that Benazir Bhutto was OK," the Pennsylvania Republican told MSNBC last night. "Then we heard she'd been hurt, critically, and then the news came in that it had been fatal."

Specter said his hope now is that the Bhutto assassination, which stunned the world and led to violence in the streets of Pakistan last night, will not derail scheduled elections there and hope of democratic reforms.

"We cannot let the crazy suicide bombers take over the world," he told the cable channel. "And that is our job for tomorrow."

After learning that she was dead, Specter, Kennedy and Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, laid flowers under Bhutto's photograph at her campaign headquarters in what they described as an unsettling atmosphere. Specter told the Associated Press that he felt apprehensive about being an American there out at night. He and Kennedy were leaving a day early on the advice of the U.S. State Department.

"They were crying and they were sobbing," Specter said, describing the people there. "It's a night reminiscent of Kennedy, Robert Kennedy's assassination."

The Pennsylvania senator, who met Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and briefly with Afghani President Hamid Karzai earlier in the day, told MSNBC that he had met with Bhutto twice when she was prime minister.

"When you have an assassination, this sort of a violent act, you have to expect people to be erupting in the streets," he said. "But there will be a tomorrow. There will be elections here. We have to assert the democratic process and we have to move forward." *

The Associated Press contributed to this report.