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Bhutto's Son, Husband to Co-Lead Her Party; Will Contest Elections

  • Nancy-Amelia Collins

Slain Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto's son and husband will co-chair her party, which has decided it will participate in coming elections. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from Islamabad.

The Pakistan People's Party named Ms. Bhutto's 19-year-old son as her successor, and announced he would co-chair the party with his father.

At a news conference following a closed-door meeting, the party also announced it would contest the elections. In response, the party of another prominent opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif, said it would not boycott the election as it had originally threatened to do.

Ms. Bhutto's son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, along with his two sisters, has officially added his mother's name to his own.

A student at Britain's Oxford University, Bilawal will share the party leadership with his father, Asif Ali Zardari.

Ms. Bhutto's son says he will return to Oxford to finish his studies, leaving his father to effectively chair the country's oldest political party. But, an emotional Bilawal stressed, he would return to Pakistan to run the party after graduation.

"My mother always said, democracy is the best revenge," said Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

Ms. Bhutto's husband Zardari said his wife wanted the party to contest the elections, even if she were killed. He also said the party would ask the UN to conduct an international probe into Ms. Bhutto's assassination on Thursday.

Zardari cited a letter Ms. Bhutto wrote in which she said that, if she were killed, she would hold Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf partially responsible for failing to provide her adequate security.

"Benazir Bhutto talks from her grave. She has already left a document, which my lawyers and our party lawyers have confirmed [is] a dying declaration," he said. "Party doesn't need, I don't need, nobody needs to point any fingers - she's pointing."

The Pakistan People's Party's participation is seen as crucial to the legitimacy of the January 8 election, which government officials say may be postponed for several weeks.

Sherry Rehman, a spokeswoman for Ms. Bhutto's party, told VOA these elections are crucial to the future of Pakistan.

"Pakistan is burning today, and is in collective mourning at this colossal loss," said Sherry Rehman. "It will have a huge impact on the future of the country, the future of politics, the way people organize, the way people collectively articulate their wishes, how elections are held and what hold extremists

may further gain in the country. So, this is a battle now for the life and death and survival of Pakistan."

Ms. Bhutto was assassinated in a gun and bomb attack Thursday as she left an election rally in the garrison town of Rawalpindi.

Ms. Bhutto's assassination has thrown the country into political turmoil and sparked violence across the nation that has claimed the lives of more than 40 people.

Ms. Bhutto's supporters have dismissed the government's account of her death, saying the government is covering up its failure to protect her.