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Bhutto's son and husband chosen to lead her party

Monday, December 31, 2007

(Photo)
Asif Ali Zardari, left, husband of slain former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, spoke Sunday at a news conference with his son Bilawal Zardari as Bilawal was nominated chairman of Bhutto's People's party in Naudero near Larkana, Pakistan.
(Shakil Adil ~ Associated Press)
NAUDERO, Pakistan -- Benazir Bhutto's 19-year-old son -- a student with no political experience -- was named symbolic leader of her party Sunday, while her husband took effective control, extending Pakistan's most enduring political dynasty.

The major parties appeared to agree that the elections should take place as scheduled Jan. 8 despite street violence and political turmoil triggered by the assassination of Bhutto. The Election Commission is to discuss the timing of the polls today.

A successful vote would bolster U.S.-backed plans to restore democracy to the nuclear-armed country as it battles rising Islamic extremism.

Rioting subsided Sunday after destruction that left at least 44 dead and caused ten of millions of dollars in damage, but bitterness remained over the government's response to the gun and suicide attack that killed Bhutto.

The appointment of Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, was not without its own complications.

A former Cabinet minister who spent eight years in prison on corruption accusations, he is known as "Mr. 10 Percent" for allegedly taking kickbacks, a charge he denies, and is viewed with suspicion by many Pakistanis.

At a news conference Sunday, Zardari said the opposition party -- Pakistan's largest -- had no confidence in the government's ability to bring the killers to justice and urged the United Nations to establish a committee like the one investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

The decisions on the future of Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party were made at a closed-door meeting in the sprawling family estate in the south of the country where the two-time former prime minister grew up.

The eldest of Bhutto's three children, Bilawal Zardari, accepted the party's leadership, but said he would remain at Oxford University.

He said his father, who was officially designated co-chairman, would be the effective party leader.

"The party's long struggle for democracy will continue with renewed vigor," Bilawal told a news conference that was repeatedly interrupted by emotional chants from Bhutto's supporters. "My mother always said democracy is the best revenge."

Bhutto's grandfather was a senior figure in the movement that helped Pakistan split from India and lead it to independence in 1947. Her father -- Pakistan's first elected prime minister -- founded the Pakistan Peoples Party in 1967 and its electoral success since then has largely depended on the Bhutto name.

Bilawal said Zardari would "take care" of the party while he continued his studies. Zardari then told reporters to direct questions at him, saying his son was at a "tender age."

Zardari immediately announced the party's participation in the elections, but said another party leader, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, would likely be their candidate for prime minister if they won.

He also appealed to the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to reverse an earlier decision to boycott the polls. Sharif's party later agreed.


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