Bhutto's Teenage Son to Lead Her Party

The teenage son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto will succeed her as the leader of the country's largest democratic party, Pakistan People's Party, the party announced on Sunday.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, 19, assumed not just a new political position, but also a new name to include his mother's last name, a reminder of his tie to the political dynasty that began with his grandfather. He is now the leader -- at least nominally -- of the largest political party in this turbulent nuclear nation.

The televised news conference held in the Bhuttos' ancestral home of Naudero, Larkana, was a bizarre and unprecedented spectacle to secure the future of Pakistan's most prominent political dynasty.

When it was announced that the 19-year-old would be the party's new leader, the crowd erupted in cheers, chanting, "Long live Bhutto."

Bilawal vowed that his party will continue with a "new vigor," and said, "My mother always says democracy is the best revenge."

Aside from these pronouncements, though, Bilawal said little. His father, Asif Ali Zaradari, led the news conference.

Zardari, 51, was in exile until Bhutto's death. He was a minister under Bhutto's previous governments. He also served eight years in prison on corruption charges. During his time in power he gained notoriety for his alleged habit of accepting bribes, and was nicknamed Mr. 10 Percent.

Bilawal's reticence left open to question how much actual power he will have as the leader of the party, especially since the young man said he would return to his studies at Oxford University in England. Neither he nor his father will be candidates in the national elections, scheduled for Jan. 8.

While there was rampant speculation that those would be postponed because of Bhutto's assassination, Zardari declared that the PPP will participate in the elections as planned before his wife was killed.

Zaradari also called on a former rival and one Pakistan's most important leaders, Nawaz Sharif, to abandon his boycott of the elections. Sharif had said earlier that he will follow the PPP's lead.

The much anticipated news conference seemed to be filled with mixed messages. Zardari refuted the government's claim that Bhutto was died as a result of the impact to her skull when her head hit the roof of the car, and instead insisted that she was killed by a gunshot wound.

He admitted, however, that he had refused to have an autopsy done on his wife because he has "lived long enough in this country to know how autopsies are done."

He instead called for an independent investigation by the United Nations and the British government to establish what killed Bhutto.

Zardari rejected any investigation into Bhutto's death by the current government, which is closely aligned with the army. Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, under growing pressure both from within the country and from allies including the United States, recently resigned his post as army chief.

But Bhutto's husband also appealed to Pakistanis to remain calm and to channel their emotions to the voting booth.

There has been widespread violence in Pakistan since Bhutto's assassination, and the country has essentially come to a standstill. Essential supplies including food and medicines have been hard to come by. Special police forces have been forced to guard gas stations to allow residents to have access to gas throughout the country.

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