President-elect Zardari Prepares to be Sworn in

Asif Ali Zardari is expected to be sworn in as Pakistan's president Monday, capping a remarkable rise from jail, exile and his wife Benazir Bhutto's assassination just nine months ago, an official said.

Asif Ali Zardari is expected to be sworn in as Pakistan's president Monday, capping a remarkable rise from jail, exile and his wife Benazir Bhutto's assassination just nine months ago, an official said.

The controversial frontrunner won more than two-thirds of the vote among lawmakers on Saturday, taking power in the world's only nuclear-armed Islamic state and frontline US "war on terror" ally.

In a short television address following the result Zardari said his triumph was a victory for democracy, a barbed reference to former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, whose August 18 resignation triggered the election.

Bhutto's widower was hailed by world leaders soon after, with the United States and Britain pledging to work closely to secure stability and economic prosperity in Pakistan.

Zardari will take charge of a country that has been riven by Islamic militancy, with nearly 1,200 people killed in bombings and suicide attacks in the past year.

The economy is also in trouble with rampant inflation and a plunging stock market that has lost around 40 percent of its value since January, in a country already reliant on foreign aid.

The militant threat was underscored in the northwestern city of Peshawar during voting Saturday, when a suicide car-bomber rammed a police checkpost killing 16 people and wounding more than 80.

The unrest is seen as a backlash by militants angry at former president Musharraf's support for the United States.

Tensions rose further this week after a failed assassination attempt on Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, whose car was hit by sniper fire as it drove to meet him at an airport on Wednesday.

Zardari, 53, defeated retired chief justice Saeed-uz-Zaman Siddiqui, who was backed by former premier Nawaz Sharif, and Mushahid Hussain, a close aide of Musharraf, in Saturday's election.

As co-chairman of the Pakistan People's Party, formerly led by his wife, Zardari already heads a fragile coalition government which, although still in office, recently lost the backing of Sharif's party.

But Bhutto's widower and political heir will now gain wide powers, including the right to dismiss governments and appoint leaders of the military, which has ruled Pakistan for half of its 61-year existence.

He will become the 14th president in Pakistan's short but turbulent history and is likely to be sworn in on Monday.

"The decision will be taken shortly and the swearing in ceremony is expected to take place probably on Monday," PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AFP.

"There is no set programme for Sunday. Party leaders and officials are expected to meet Asif Ali Zardari and greet him on his election win," he added.

Zardari had been the clear favourite to take power after Musharraf's nearly nine-year rule, which came to an end when he quit office under threat of impeachment.

Leaders in Western countries joined Pakistan's neighbours Iran and Afghanistan in congratulating Zardari's victory.

In Washington, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said US President George W. Bush "looks forward to working with him ... and the government of Pakistan on issues important to both countries."

Those include "counterterrorism and making sure Pakistan has a stable and secure economy," he added.

Zardari, once dubbed "Mr Ten Percent," spent a total of 11 years in jail on charges ranging from corruption to murder.

An amnesty signed by Musharraf cleared him of all corruption charges last year and allowed him and Bhutto to return to Pakistan and end years in exile.

Source: AFP

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