Zardari rejects claim of al-Qaeda link to Bhutto's murder

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London, Jan 1: Asif Ali Zardari, husband of slain Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto, rejected claims of Al-Qaeda's involvement in his wife's assassination, accusing officials of a cover-up.

''I think soon the chickens are going to lay their eggs and we will blame them on Al-Qaeda,'' he said in an interview to the Guardian. ''Al-Qaeda has nothing to fear; why would they fear us? Are they our political opponents?'' he said. In a major embarrassment to the Caretaker government in Pakistan, the Interior Minister asked the media to ''forget and forgive'' the statement of his ministry's spokesman that Bhutto died after hitting her head on a sunroof lever of her armoured vehicle.

Clamour for an independent probe into the tragedy gained momentum after fresh TV grabs showed an assassin firing shots at the former prime minister.

''They want to muddy the waters,'' Mr Zardari said. Comparing the incident with former US President John F Kennedy's assassination, he said ''[Even] Kennedy's murder is not solved. What do they do? They always find ten excuses and ten people to blame, and one to hang.'' Bhutto's son Bilawal was appointed chairman of Pakistan People's party on Sunday. However, power will remain with a committee of regents, headed by his father, until the 19-year-old Oxford undergraduate completes his education.

''Slowly we will groom him. He will first complete his studies. When he's graduated, he will join the party and work for it,'' Mr Zardari said.

Bilawal would return ''a little late'' to Christ Church college, where he is studying history, he added.

Describing Bilawal's initial role in the party as elections were looming, Mr Zardari said ''We'll try and expose him to the minimum.'' He defended the decision to appoint an inexperienced youngster to such a position, insisting it was crucial to the stability of the party and the country.

''The party has gone into a very aggressive mode,'' he said.

''People are talking about breaking the country, of forgetting democracy. [They are saying] We've had enough of these generals, let's go for all-out war. In order to keep that cohesiveness, to channel that anger into a democratic force, one has to give them a symbol that belongs to her... That would give them a new hope.

That is the reason.'' Mr Zardari, a former minister for investment, faces corruption charges and has served eight years in jail on various charges, but was never convicted.

Talking about corruption charges against him, Mr Zardari said they had never caused any difficulties within the party and insisted that he would be able to maintain unity. ''There'll always be controversies about anybody and everybody,'' he said.

He said the decision to appoint Bilawal was taken unanimously by 52 party leaders. ''Everyone agreed upon it. They could have said, We accept you but we would not like a young man to be leading us.

Nobody said that; in fact they were happier... If that's not democratic, what is?,'' he asked.

UNI

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