NAUDERO, Dec 30: Benazir Bhutto’s son Bilawal accepted the joint leadership of her party on Sunday along with his father Asif Ali Zardari and immediately vowed to fight for democracy as revenge for her assassination.

At an emotional news conference where he was presented as chairman and his father as co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party, 19-year-old Bilawal, an Oxford University student untested in politics, said he was ready to lead.

And Mr Zardari announced that henceforth Bilawal’s family name and that of his sisters, Bakhtawar and Aseefa, would be Bhutto Zardari, instead of only Zardari.

“My mother always said that democracy is the best revenge,” Bilawal told the news conference at the family home.

“The party’s long and historic struggle for democracy will continue with a new vigour,” said the teenager, wearing a sombre expression as he took over the mantle of a party whose previous leaders, his mother and grandfather, came to violent ends.

Bilawal said that like his mother he would be the symbol of the federation of Pakistan.

* Bilawal is six years short of the eligible age to stand for parliament and is more familiar with the high streets of Dubai and London, his family homes during Benazir’s long years of exile, than with Pakistan’s troubled electorate.

* He went to a prestigious high school in Dubai and recently followed his mother’s footsteps to Oxford, but his mother’s constant political travails and his father’s jailing for eight years on ‘cooked up’ graft charges left a deep imprint on him.

* Almost 30 years before his mother was assassinated in a gun-and-bomb attack, his grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s first popularly elected prime minister, was hanged by the military regime that had deposed him.

* In his few press interviews, an adolescent Bilawal revealed a political conscience and a burning sense of injustice at the way his mother and father had been treated by Pakistan’s military and by her chief political rival, Nawaz Sharif.

* As a 16-year-old at high school, he told the Press Trust of India in an interview in 2004 that he felt justice and democracy held the key to resolving Pakistan’s problems.

* Asked if he would one day enter the whirlpool of Pakistani politics, Bilawal, a Taekwondo black-belt and horse-riding enthusiast like his father, was quoted as saying:

“We will see, I don’t know. I would like to help the people of Pakistan, so I will decide when I finish my studies.”

He added: “I can either enter politics, or I can enter another career that would benefit the people.”—Agencies

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