Zardari takes oath as Pakistan’s new president (Lead)

September 9th, 2008 - 4:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Benazir BhuttoIslamabad, Sep 9 (IANS) Asif Ali Zardari, husband of slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Tuesday took oath as Pakistan’s new president for a five-year term as the first civilian head of state who will be as powerful as the country’s military dictators in the past.Chief Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar administered the oath to the newly elected president who, despite his controversial image, has co-chaired the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) after last year’s assassination of Bhutto.

Zardari, 55, wearing a traditional dark grey suit, appeared at the Darbar Hall of the Presidency with Dogar, outgoing acting president Muhammadmian Soomro and Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani to a big applause and slogans of “Long Live Bhutto”.

Zardari’s short-time ally and head of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz - Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister - was not present at the function.

As president and co-chair of the PPP, which is in power at the centre and three provinces, Zardari will enjoy enormous powers, akin to his predecessor Pervez Musharraf who had to step down last month.

Zardari read the oath of president as given in the schedule of the country’s constitution in English. As soon as he finished his oath, PPP activists present in the Darbar Hall raised slogans in favour of Zardari and Bhutto.

After the ceremony, he hugged his party men and family members there whereas all previous presidents had left the hall soon after the swearing in.

Zardari, who has been known as ‘Mr Ten Percent’ in the past because of alleged cuts from major government deals when Benazir Bhutto was in power, has been in jail for 11 years on charges that were never proved.

For now, he has two major challenges to deal with, the first being the war on terrorism going on in neighbouring Afghanistan and frequent attacks inside Pakistan by US-led coalition forces.

The second challenge is the internal security and growing terrorist attacks in which more than 500 people have been killed since his party took power.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai had been specially invited for the occasion and has become the first foreign head of state to hold talks with Zardari soon after the oath-taking ceremony.

The country’s top functionaries, including provincial governors, chief ministers, ministers, service chiefs, including Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, top bureaucrats, leading politicians and judges were present at the ceremony.

Zardari’s three children - among them his son and PPP co-chairperson Bilawal Bhutto, and two daughters Bakhtawar and Aseefa - were present besides his sisters, parents and sister-in-law, Sanam Bhutto. Bilawal and Sanam Bhutto flew down from London to attend the swearing in ceremony.

Sanam Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto’s only sister, was in tears and kept crying throughout the oath-taking ceremony, which had come barely eight months after the latter was assassinated in Pakistan.

Nawaz Sharif, who was Zardari’s short-time ally and heads the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, avoided the ceremony by leaving for London Tuesday morning where his wife is convalescing after a knee operation.

Sharif’s party was represented at the ceremony by his brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and some other leaders.

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