Benazir Bhutto’s widower sworn in as president

THE widower of assassinated former Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto took office as the country’s new president yesterday, facing immediate pressure to crack down on Islamic militants and address daunting economic problems.

Pakistan’s top judge swore in Asif Ali Zardari at a brief ceremony in the presidential palace recently vacated by Pervez Musharraf, who resigned under pressure last month.

With his three children among the well-wishers and dignitaries packing a cavernous hall, Zardari, wearing a pinstriped business suit, beamed as the ceremony ended and shouts of “Bhutto is alive!” rang out.

But in the front row sat an imposing reminder of his task ahead: Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose government accuses Pakistan of failing to take action against — even colluding with — Taliban militants based around the countries’ common border.

“We are in the eye of the storm,” Zardari told a joint news conference with Karzai later in the day.

“I consider that an opportunity. I intend to take that and make it our strength. We intend to take the world with us in developing the future of Pakistan and changing the future of our neighbours also.”

Karzai said Pakistan’s new democratic dawn augured well for both countries and that he found common ground with Zardari.

“For each step that you take in the war against terrorism for bringing peace to two countries, for bringing stability to two countries, Afghanistan will take many, many steps with you,” he said.

The inauguration of Zardari, 53, completes Pakistan’s return to civilian rule nearly nine years after then-army chief Musharraf seized power in a bloodless military coup.

The United States came to depend heavily on Musharraf for co-operation to capture or kill al-Qaida leaders who plotted the 9/11 attacks on America.

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