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Daily Archives: December 30, 2007

Bhutto’s son takes mantle as party leader: officials

Sample ImageThe 19-year-old son of Benazir Bhutto was appointed yesterday as leader of the assassinated Pakistani opposition leader's party, with her husband as co-chairman, party officials said.

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) named Bhutto's son Bilawal, an Oxford University student, as its chairman after a marathon meeting at the family's ancestral home, three senior party officials told AFP.

The decision came just three days after Bhutto was assassinated, leaving a void at the head of the PPP, the largest political party in the nuclear-armed Islamic nation.

"Bilawal is the new chairman of the party and Asif Ali Zardari will assist him as co-chairman," one of the officials said. Zardari, 51, is Bhutto's husband.

Bilawal was named in the will left by Bhutto as her successor in the event of her death, the official said. He himself read the contents of the will to the meeting of the party's top brass.

Bhutto's 51-year-old sister Sanam, who was supported by many PPP members to take over, had refused to accept any responsibility in the party because of her family commitments in London, another of the officials said.

It was still not known if the party had decided to take part in the scheduled January 8 parliamentary elections.

The appointment means the party leadership follows the bloodline for a third generation, some four decades after it was founded by Bilawal's grandfather and former prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

As thousands of mourners outside beat their chests in grief before the meeting started, Zardari told them: "Benazir Bhutto sacrificed her life for Pakistan's survival and democracy. We will continue Bhutto's mission."

"The Pakistan People's Party will remain intact as the leading political force in the country," he said.

The crowd chanted slogans against President Pervez Musharraf including "Curse on Musharraf, Musharraf is a killer!" outside the house in the southern village of Naudero.

But many in the crowd who had massed on the third and final official day of mourning for the 54-year-old Bhutto began chanting for Sanam Bhutto to take the reins of the party, witnesses said.

Analysts urged caution.

"Bilawal is just 19 years old, he needs to be groomed," political analyst and retired general Talat Masood said. "They should let him complete his education."

He warned that by opting for a "dynasty-based" succession, the party risked becoming factionalised.

Political commentator Najam Sethi said Zardari would "run the show to keep the place warm for his son Bilawal, just like Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi is doing for her young son Rahul in India."

PPP vice president Makhdoom Amin Fahim and the party's Punjab province president Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi will be on a so-called "advisory council" for their young leader, party officials said.

Party behind Musharraf suspends campaigning: spokesman

The party backing Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has suspended election campaigning for the January 8 parliamentary vote, a spokesman said yesterday.

"We have suspended our campaign because of the prevailing situation," said Tariq Azim, the country's former deputy information minister, just days after the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

"We do not have a climate in which we can canvass voters," Azim said, adding that a delay in the vote — which Musharraf has vowed would be a key step in completing Pakistan's return to civilian rule — would be "realistic".

He said Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party (PPP) had declared a 40-day period of mourning after she was slain in a gun and suicide attack at a campaign rally on Thursday, which has thrown the country into violence and turmoil.

"Perhaps it will be asking too much of the PPP if they are to go to voters and contest the elections next week," Azim said.

Azim's Pakistan Muslim League-Q (PML-Q) was the country's ruling party until Musharraf dissolved parliament in November and appointed a caretaker government, which was to run the nation until the January 8 vote.

Both the PPP and other opposition parties rejected the caretaker set-up as an extension of the PML-Q, deeming it partisan and demanding that Musharraf instead announce a national consensus government to conduct the elections.

Azim said it would be difficult for the vote to go ahead on schedule.

"Keeping everything in mind, a delay of 10 to 12 weeks is realistic," he said.