Distraught Bhutto rounds on her `tyrant' president

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The Independent Online
For the past 24 hours, Benazir Bhutto had been kept incommunicado, a prisoner in the imposing prime minister's mansion where her husband's polo ponies and camels had once grazed near the hills. Dismissed by Farooq Leghari, the President and her former ally, Ms Bhutto at last was allowed to receive visitors yesterday evening.

Puffy-cheeked from crying and robed in black, Ms Bhutto, 44, ridiculed the once loyal Mr Leghari as "a self-styled tyrant" who was "intoxicated with power". Worse still, she accused the President of kidnapping her husband, Asif Zardari, the former investment minister in her government.

Referring to Mr Leghari, she said scathingly: "He was my number two. A good man, but he had no great vision, and he wasn't much of a strategist. But when I elevated him to this high honour, he became arrogant. He thought he was a king of kings."

Ms Bhutto, who has been removed from power by presidents twice, first in August 1990, said she would file charges against Mr Leghari for kidnapping her husband. He was picked up by security forces at 1:30am on Tuesday from the governor's mansion in Lahore and his whereabouts are still unknown. She raised the possibility that Mr Leghari was having Mr Zardari tortured. "I asked the new cabinet where my husband was, but they had no idea. Then I asked the army, and they said they were neutral," she said.

The President had earlier hinted that Mr Zardari might be involved in the murder on 20 September of Ms Bhutto's brother, Murtaza, who was trying to wrest control of the ruling Pakistan People's Party from his sister.

But Ms Bhutto, apparently on the verge of sobbing, claimed that she had evidence, so far undisclosed, proving that her brother's shooting at a police road-block in Karachi was part of "a premeditated conspiracy to destabilise Pakistan", one in which the President might be implicated.

Ms Bhutto's polo-playing, feudal husband is unloved by many Pakistanis who allege that as investment minister he looted the country. Ms Bhutto's protests against unjust treatment are likely to provoke little more than ironic smiles among Pakistanis; her own government was often guilty of kidnappings and extra-judicial killings, according to her opponents.

The President has given her 10 days to clear out of the prime minister's residence, even though her replacement, Malik Meraj Khalid, 80, is staying in his own home, as part of a new drive to end the "VIP culture" in Pakistan. The 12 ministers in the new interim cabinet are all taking 50 per cent wage cuts, and from now on all politicians and senior government officials must fly economy class. Each minister is also limited to a single official car; before cabinet ministers liked to speed through cities in convoys with flashing lights.

Ms Bhutto accused the President of plotting for months to dismiss her. She vowed to challenge her government's removal, after 34 months in power. Ms Bhutto claimed that the President had acted unconstitutionally. He should have called for a no-confidence vote in the assembly, which Ms Bhutto claims her party would have easily survived.

The former prime minister gave a rare insight into how constitutional coups occur on the sub-continent. She had been working until 1.30am with representatives of the International Monetary Fund, which had just extended the last tranche of a $600m (pounds 400m) emergency loan to Pakistan. She went to bed when the telephone rang. It was a friend, alarmed that the army had sealed off Isalamad's airport. Immediately, she rang Mr Leghari. "I asked him, `Are you aware that the army shut the airport?' His reply was `Oh?'".

Ms Bhutto claimed she pressed Mr Leghari harder. "Was this your order or somebody else's?" The President reportedly replied: "Actually, Bibi [Ms Bhutto's nickname], I've dissolved parliament. A letter to you is on its way." Angrily, Ms Bhutto recounted, "He was waiting for me to go to sleep before sending his letter. It was so dishonest."