Bhutto's Teenage Son to Lead Her Party

Slain leader's husband to share power; party calls for elections to go on.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 30, 2007— -- 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.

According to Zardari, Bhutto's will was dated Oct. 16, two days before she returned to Pakistan from self-imposed exile.

The Government's Reaction

Pakistan's acting Information Minister Nisar Memon told ABC News that X-rays he had seen and that were released by the government prove that Bhutto was killed by the impact of her head hitting her car's sunroof.

"There was no bullet," he said, adding it was "the impact that was there."

He blamed al Qaeda leader Behtullah Mehsud for involvement in the attack. He said authorities knew who was responsible for Bhutto's assassination and added with confidence, "We will get them."

The current chaos is an "emotional reaction" to the attack, Memon said, and he expects it to calm down in the days to come.

Conspiracy Theories

A day after Bhutto's assassination the government released what it said was the transcript of an intercepted telephone conversation, allegedly between al Qaeda leaders, that apparently implicated Mehsud as well as three others named Saeed, Bilal and Ikramullah.

The Ministry of the Interior today released the audio of the conversation allegedly between Mehsud and a cleric described as Maulvi Sahib. In the conversation Mehsud describes the assassination as a "spectacular job."

Sherry Rehman, a close friend and associate of Bhutto, said saw when she bathed the slain leader's body (in accordance with Islamic traditions) that Bhutto died of bullet wounds.

The Pakistani government has released video showing a gunman who fired three shots close to Bhutto's car. The government has not, however, commented on whether Bhutto was hit, but instead points to X-rays as proof that Bhutto was killed by the blow to her head.

The conflicting messages coming from the Bhutto camp and from the government have led to an explosion of conspiracy theories in Pakistan.

In Liaquat Park, today, the site where Bhutto was assassinated, people had many different stories to tell. Different versions of how she fell and what people heard, indicating the rampant confusion surrounding the facts of the case.