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Bhutto widower sworn in as Pakistan president

The widower of assassinated former Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto took office as the country's new president Tuesday.
Image: Asif Ali Zardari being sworn in as president in Islamabad
Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, is sworn in as president in Islamabad on Tuesday.PTV via Reuters TV
/ Source: The Associated Press

The widower of assassinated former Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto took office as the country's new president Tuesday, facing immediate pressure to crack down on Islamic militants and address daunting economic problems.

Pakistan's top judge swore in Asif Ali Zardari at a brief ceremony in the presidential palace recently vacated by Pervez Musharraf, who resigned under pressure last month.

With his three children among the well-wishers and dignitaries packing a cavernous hall, Zardari, wearing a pinstriped business suit, beamed as the ceremony ended and shouts of "Bhutto is alive!" rang out.

But in the front row sat an imposing reminder of his task ahead: Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose government accuses Pakistan of failing to take action against — even colluding with — Taliban militants based around the countries' common border.

The inauguration of Zardari, 53, completes Pakistan's return to civilian rule nearly nine years after then-army chief Musharraf seized power in a bloodless military coup.

Resurgent Taliban
The United States came to depend heavily on Musharraf for cooperation to capture or kill al-Qaida leaders who plotted the 9/11 attacks on America and fled Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled their Taliban allies.

However, the Taliban revived on Musharraf's watch, and al-Qaida chiefs Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri remain on the run, probably somewhere in the uncontrolled frontier region.

Zardari has made tough statements against Islamic extremism, and the army says it has killed hundreds of rebels in ongoing operations in several parts of Pakistan's volatile northwest.

In the latest fighting, seven militants were killed Tuesday in northwestern Bajur region. Additionally, six civilians, including three children, died when mortar shells hit two houses overnight in the same region, officials said. It was not clear who fired the mortar rounds.

Yet the elected government also has sought peace talks with militants, and many Pakistanis blame the rising violence in their own country on Musharraf's close alliance with Washington.

Musharraf quit reluctantly on Aug. 18 to avoid the threat of impeachment at the hands of a coalition of parties that routed his supporters in February parliamentary elections.

Zardari won a two-thirds majority when lawmakers chose among the three presidential candidates on Saturday.

Ordinary Pakistanis are calling on the government to give them some relief from runaway inflation and massive power shortages.

Economists are calling for urgent action to address slowing growth and investment plus fast-depleting foreign currency reserves.