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Bhutto's son faces press and a Paxman inquisition

Benazir Bhutto's teenage son faced some abrasive questions from Jeremy Paxman yesterday as he asked the media to respect his privacy and let him continue his studies at Oxford University in peace.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, 19, returned from his homeland yesterday to confront 250 journalists at a West End hotel before he continues his first-year undergraduate studies in history at Christchurch College.

Reading from a prepared statement, Mr Bhutto Zardari said that this would be his only public appea-rance in response to the press clamour that has followed his mother's killing in a targeted assassination two weeks ago. Mr Bhutto Zardari has been named as successor to his mother as chairman of the Pakistan People's Party, although his father, Asif Ali Zardari, will carry out his duties until he completes his studies.

"One of my mother's greatest strengths was her education," he said. "Unless I can continue my education and develop enough maturity I recognise that I will never be in a position to have sufficient wisdom to enter the political arena."

The key question the press wanted answered was: Why had the leadership of the PPP been handed to another Bhutto, rather than decided by a vote of party members?

The BBC's Jeremy Paxman accused the Bhutto family of handing around the leadership of the PPP "like some piece of family furniture". He also questioned Mr Bhutto Zardari's ability to lead the party, asking: "Wouldn't it have been wiser just to wait until you know a little more?"

The Oxford student replied: "It was a moment of crisis. Pakistan was burning, we needed to show a united front and we needed to quell the violence."

Speaking on the day that had his mother lived would have seen a general election in Pakistan, Mr Bhutto Zardari said his selection as chairman "was based on the collective will of the party unanimously endorsed by 50 to 60 members of our central executive committee and the federal council".

And in response to the question of whether there would come a day when a Bhutto did not lead the PPP, he said: "There is a slogan in our country that says, 'How many Bhutto's can you kill? From every house a Bhutto will come!'."