Bhutto's son takes over party mantle

The son of slain Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was chosen on Sunday to take the mantle of her party and immediately vowed to keep up what he called her struggle for democracy.

At an emotional news conference where his father was named co-chair of the Pakistan People’s Party, 19-year-old Bilawal Bhutto, an Oxford University student untested in politics, said he was ready to lead.

The party also said it would take part in elections on January 8 despite Bhutto’s assassination in a gun and suicide bomb attack on Thursday.

“My mother always said that democracy is the best revenge,” Bilawal told a news conference at the family home in Pakistan’s deep south, which was punctuated by cheers from supporters.

“The party’s long and historic struggle for democracy will continue with a new vigour,” he said.

Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, demanded a United Nations probe into her assassination, along the lines of the world body’s probe of the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

“We demand a Hariri commission-style investigation,” Zardari told reporters. “We are writing to the UN for an international probe into her martyrdom.”

He added that he had denied the Pakistani government permission to conduct an autopsy, saying he had lived in the country “long enough to know” how it would have been handled.

The government says al-Qaeda militants are responsible for Bhutto’s death at an election rally less than two weeks before the scheduled vote.

But Bhutto’s supporters have accused the government of President Pervez Musharraf of involvement in the attack.

Elections

Zardari, who spent more than eight years in jail on corruption charges before he was freed in 2004, defied expectations that the party would call for the upcoming elections to be delayed.

The polls, the first in more than five years, are seen as a key step in completing the nation’s transition to a civilian-led democracy after almost a decade of military rule.

“We have decided to go for elections,” Zardari said.

Zardari appealed for calm and peace in the country, following a wave of violence sparked by Bhutto’s death that left at least 38 people dead and property worth tens of millions of dollars damaged.

A senior party official at the news conference, meanwhile, said that Bhutto in her will had named Zardari as her successor, but that her husband had passed on the post as party chairperson to his son.

Before the meeting, a crowd of supporters outside the house chanted slogans against Musharraf, including “Curse on Musharraf, Musharraf is a killer!”

Meanwhile, the party of former Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif will take part in scheduled elections on January 8, after earlier saying it would boycott, two spokespersons said on Sunday.

“We will contest the election,” a party spokesperson said.

A personal spokesperson for Sharif said the decision was taken after Zardari had asked Sharif’s party to participate.

“No major party should boycott because it would damage democracy,” the spokesperson, Zaeem Qadri, quoted Zardari as telling Sharif.

The party said the boycott had been announced as a gesture of solidarity after Bhutto was assassinated.—AFP

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