Pakistan besotted by Clooney 'affair' with Bhutto niece

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Actor's romantic link with political dynasty

He is Hollywood's most eligible bachelor. She is an outspoken poet and journalist born into Pakistan's greatest political dynasty. What, then, could spark a bigger media circus than a "secret romance" between George Clooney and Benazir Bhutto's 26-year-old niece, Fatima?

Newspapers across the subcontinent were thrown into frenzied excitement yesterday when America's most influential supermarket tabloid claimed that Clooney had embarked on a long-distance relationship with Ms Bhutto after meeting her at an international conference last year.

The National Enquirer alleged that the 47-year-old actor and political activist was privately smitten by the "brainy foreign beauty," who lives with her brother and step-mother in a prosperous suburb of Karachi.

"George has courted her by phone and email, and arranged to meet her abroad when their schedules allowed," a friend of Clooney told the paper. "Now he wants her to spend time with him in Hollywood. He's still out there with his usual assortment of eye-candy hanging from his arm. But George insists those days could be coming to an end if Fatima wants to take their relationship to the next level."

The report was taken with a pinch of salt in the US, where the Enquirer has a mixed reputation for accuracy.

"Fatima was educated at Columbia University [in New York] and knew of [Clooney's] heart-throb rep," said the Enquirer. "But she didn't take his advances seriously because she thought their age difference would make a serious relationship impractical."

Ms Bhutto, who often writes newspaper columns criticising Pakistan's government, is reported to be contesting her late aunt's former seat in the Larkana constituency in the next elections. She is also a prominent intellectual who has published a book of poetry, The Whispers of the Desert, and a memoir of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake.

The journalistic background would certainly strike a chord with Clooney, whose father was a famous newspaper reporter. He has always taken a keen interest in global affairs, although his roster of previous girlfriends is almost exclusively made up of cocktail waitresses, actresses and models.

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