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Oxford friends remember ‘fiery and fun’ Benazir

December 29, 2007

LONDON, Dec 28: Benazir Bhutto’s contemporaries at Oxford University remembered her as a “fiery and fun” student on Friday, whose political awakening came after her father’s ouster as Pakistani prime minister.

Ms Bhutto was always a well-known figure among the city’s dreaming spires -- her election as president of the Oxford Union debating society, the first Asian woman to hold the post, attracted worldwide media attention. She reportedly held some of the best parties in the university and drove a yellow MG sports car.

Ms Bhutto studied politics, philosophy and economics at Lady Margaret Hall from 1973 and later became an honorary fellow of the college, which was founded in 1878 and pioneered women’s education at Oxford.

She described her university years as the best of her life and reportedly recalled punting on the River Cherwell and picnicking at Blenheim Palace, ancestral home of former British premier Winston Churchill.

Alan Duncan, business spokesman for the main opposition Conservative Party, knew her for 31 years and was her campaign manager when she became Oxford Union president in 1976.

Their friendship continued after they left university and the pair exchanged emails a few days before her death in which he pledged to visit Pakistan to see her being sworn in as prime minister.

“She was fiery and fun, a very dominant personality,” he told AFP.

“She had been to Harvard already so she was a little bit older than the rest of us -- she was enormously determined.”

Another friend, author Victoria Schofield, was quoted by the Independent newspaper earlier this year saying that Ms Bhutto “wasn’t someone who was buried away in a library” at the university.

“She used to go socialising; she had a lot of friends, and in later years it was those friendships she thought back to, because it was a very happy period for her,” she said.

The principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Doctor Frances Lannon, said she was “appalled” by her assassination, adding: “She was highly regarded as an intelligent student who made many friends here.”

Mr Duncan said that Ms Bhutto’s father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, alongside whom she was being buried on Friday, was ousted from office just weeks after she was voted into the prestigious role.

This prompted a wave of protests in the university involving students and academics alike.

“Throughout all of that year in which she had been president, there were campaigns, meetings around Oxford,” he said.

But he said it was her father’s hanging in 1979 under the regime of military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq which propelled her to “serious political application”, adding: “You’re on a mission then, aren’t you?”

Another Oxford friend, author Tariq Ali, echoed this view, writing in the Guardian newspaper: “She was not a natural politician and had always wanted to be a diplomat, but history and personal tragedy pushed her in the other direction.

“Her father’s death transformed her.”—AFP