Bhutto’s son takes over party mantle, vows revenge

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, the 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 Jan 8 despite Bhutto's assassination in a gun and suicide bomb attack on Thursday and called on former premier Nawaz Sharif not to boycott the polls.

'My mother always said that democracy is the best revenge,' Bilawal told a news conference at the family home in Pakistan's deep south that 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,' he told reporters. 'We are writing to the United Nations 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.

Mr 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,' Mr Zardari said. 'We are grateful to Nawaz Sharif for announcing his oycott of the election but we appeal to him to end the boycott and take part.'

He 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 Mr Zardari as her successor, but that her husband had passed on the post as party chairman 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!' — AFP