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Zardari’s UK visit spark protest
London, Aug 8 (Agencies):
Published on 8 Aug. 2010 11:31 PM IST
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Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari addressed a rally in Britain for his political party on Saturday, ending a visit he was criticised for making while millions struggled with devastating floods at home.
Protesters outside the rally shouted “Go Zardari, Go”, while witnesses said that inside an old man tried to throw a shoe at the president before being hustled away by security guards.
The shoes landed just short of him.
“Zardari was in the middle of a long campaign speech when a man towards the back of the crowd hurled the shoes at him,” an eyewitness was quoted as saying.
“They landed short of him, and it wasn’t clear what exactly the man was protesting about.”
While talking to the British daily, Zardari had dismissed claims that he should have stayed at home. In an event which relied heavily on the reputation of the family dynasty of his late wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Zardari urged Pakistanis not to politicise any calamity, “whether it’s a calamity of floods or calamity of war”.
Speaking to hundreds of supporters of the Pakistan People’s Party in the city of Birmingham, Zardari presented himself as an ambassador for his country, determined to revive its economy and offer a stable and democratic future for its youth. “I have undertaken this ... tour to tell the world about my point of view, to show them that a country does not run on aid, it runs on trade,” he told a conference hall packed with members of Britain’s Pakistani community.
On Friday, Zardari and British Prime Minister David Cameron held talks in which they agreed to do more together to fight Islamist militancy and brushed aside a diplomatic spat.
But with more than 1,600 people killed and millions stranded by Pakistan’s worst floods in 80 years, Zardari has come under fire at home for pressing ahead with the visit.
Even before the floods, some Pakistani politicians had suggested he cancel the trip after Cameron said on a visit to Pakistan’s arch-rival India that Islamabad must not “look both ways” when dealing with Islamist militants.
Cameron’s comments prompted the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency to say its chief was cancelling a visit to Britain in protest. “In choosing to go ahead with the tour ... President Zardari appears to have badly miscalculated the impact this untimely visit will have on his image as Pakistan’s head of state,” the Pakistani newspaper Dawn said in an editorial.
The protesters -- police put their number at about 100 -- waved banners saying “Zardari, part-time president” and “Thousands dying, Zardari holidaying”.
The man who tried to throw a shoe -- an insult which rose to prominence when an Iraqi did the same to former U.S. President George W. Bush -- was too far back in the conference hall to have any impact, and Zardari did not interrupt his speech. The audience was relatively subdued, apart from some young party workers who had been organised as cheerleaders.
Zardari’s son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, had been widely expected to speak at the rally, a political debut for the 21-year-old Oxford University graduate and heir to the family dynasty founded by former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
Large photos of Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto were given equal prominence on the stage -- with a picture of Zulfikar and Benazir Bhutto in the middle -- suggesting the event was originally planned as a father-and-son double bill. On Thursday, Bilawal Bhutto cancelled plans to attend the rally and said he would stay in London instead to organise donations for flood victims.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, he defended his father’s trip, saying it had helped to raise money for flood relief.
On Friday, Zardari said “storms will come and storms will go and Pakistan and Britain will stand together”, while Cameron spoke of an “unbreakable relationship between Britain and Pakistan based on our mutual interests”.
It is a measure of how important that relationship is that Zardari should choose to address a political rally in Britain -- a rare event for a visiting head of state and a sign of the significance of the British Pakistani community. Britain has more than one million people of Pakistani origin.
The rally was dominated by images of and references to Benazir Bhutto, who was killed in 2007, and her father Zulfikar, who was hanged in 1979.

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