|Bhutto's son, husband to take the place of her|
|Monday, 31 December 2007|
Pakistan - Benazir Bhutto's 19-year-old son was chosen Sunday to succeed her as chairman of her opposition party, extending Pakistan's most famous political dynasty but leaving the real power to her husband, who will serve as co-chairman.
Both major opposition parties also decided to run in parliamentary elections scheduled for Jan. 8, apparently ending the threat of a wholesale boycott as Pakistan struggles to move to full democracy after years of military rule.
But earlier, a spokesman for the country's ruling party said the vote may be delayed up to four months, claiming the parliamentary elections would lose credibility if held as scheduled. He expected a formal announcement within 24 hours.
"How long the postponement will be for will up to the Election Commission," Tariq Azim, information secretary of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q, told The Associated Press. "I think we are looking at a delay of a few weeks ... of up to three or four months."
Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party central executive committee met privately to choose her successor three days after the two-time prime minister was assassinated in a suicide attack that thrust the volatile Islamic nation deeper into crisis.
Her son, Bilawal Zardari, a student with no experience in politics, said he would remain at Oxford University, leaving his father, Asif Ali Zardari, who was officially designated co-chairman, as the effective leader of the country's largest political party.
"The party's long struggle for democracy will continue with renewed vigor," Bilawal told a news conference. "My mother always said democracy is the best revenge."
Supporters chanted "Benazir, princess of heaven" and "Bilawal, move ahead. We are with you."
Bhutto's grandfather was a senior figure in the Pakistan Muslim League, the party that helped Pakistan split from India and lead it to independence in 1947. Her father — Pakistan's first elected prime minister — founded the party in 1967 and its electoral success since then has largely depended on the Bhutto name.
Bilawal said that Zardari would "take care" of the party while he continued his studies. Zardari then told reporters to direct questions to him, saying his son was at a "tender age."
Zardari, who spent eight years under detention on corruption charges in Pakistan before his release in late 2004, is a party powerbroker who served as environment minister in Bhutto's second government. He has denied the charges of large-scale graft during his wife's rule.
He immediately announced the group's participation in the elections but said another party leader, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, would likely be their candidate for prime minister if they won.
Zardari appealed to the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to drop plans to boycott the polls. Sharif's party later agreed to the appeal and said it would take part in the elections.
Some people have called for a delay in the elections given the turmoil in the country following Bhutto's killing, but a senator from her party said it was demanding that they take place on time.
"We want elections on Jan. 8 and we will not let the government run away from the elections," said Sen. Safdar Abbasi.
The government has blamed an al-Qaida-linked militant for the murder of Bhutto but her party disputes that and claims elements in the Pakistan Muslim League-Q — the ruling party that supports President Pervez Musharraf — could have been behind the slaying.
Zardari repeatedly called the ruling party the "killer league."
He also rejected as "lies" the government's account of how his wife died, amid a dispute over whether she sustained fatal gunshot wounds or was killed by the force of the suicide blast that struck her vehicle as she left a campaign rally on Thursday.
Bhutto was buried without an autopsy and the debate over her cause of death has undermined confidence in the government and further angered her followers.
Zardari appealed to the United Nations and British government to help investigate the crime. He said the party wanted a U.N. investigation like the one probing the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The government has already said international involvement in the investigation is not necessary.
The killing triggered violence throughout Pakistan but there was no fresh rioting reported Sunday.
Since Thursday, unrest has killed at least 44 people and caused tens of millions of dollars of damage. Rioters have destroyed 176 banks, 34 gas stations, 72 train cars, 18 rail stations, and hundreds of cars and shops, the government says.
Zardari urged supporters to show restraint.
"We will avenge the murder of Bhutto through the democratic process after winning the elections," he said.
"God willing, when it is the Peoples Party's reign, when the Peoples Party government is formed, then we would have taken revenge for Bibi's blood and that blood would not have gone waste," Zardari said, referring to his late wife by her nickname.
In fresh militant violence, two men blew themselves up Sunday near the residence in eastern Pakistan of Ijazul Haq, the former religious affairs minister and senior leader of the ruling party, said district police chief Zafar Abbas Bukhari. Both men died, but there were no other casualties.
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