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Bhutto freed, calls for govt of national unity
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

Benazir BhuttoMohammedmian Soomro, chairman of the Senate, was sworn in as the caretaker Prime Minister on Friday and vowed to remain focused on overseeing free, fair and transparent elections. However, the caretaker structure was rejected by the Opposition describing it as an “extension” of the Pakistan Muslim League.

Meanwhile, the Punjab government today withdrew the seven-day detention order against Pakistan People’s Party chief and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. “The detention order has been withdrawn but normal police security will stay with her,” Geo TV quoted officials as saying. The channel also reported that orders have been issued to free human rights activist Asma Jehangir.

President General Pervez Musharraf administered the oath in the presence of outgoing premier Shaukat Aziz, former ministers and senior officials. Both Musharraf and Soomro wore traditional black sherwani for the ceremony at the presidential palace in Islamabad.

Soomro, a close friend and confidant of Musharraf, is an internationally recognised banker. He will retain both offices of the Prime Minister and Senate chairman till a new government takes over after the general elections slated for first week of January.

Musharraf termed the occasion as historic saying it was the first ever smooth transition in the country’s history where both outgoing and incoming ministers were present.

“It is nothing but an extension of the former ruling PML handpicked by General Musharraf”, Bhutto said, and called for setting up a government of national unity and consensus which should replace the Musharraf regime.

Raja Zafrul Haq, chairman of Nawaz Sharif faction of the PML-N, said Musharraf has installed another puppet set up saying a caretaker has to be neutral and acceptable to all mainstream parties.

Soomro belongs to a prominent feudal family of Sindh. Though his sister is an active leader of Bhutto’s PPP, Soomro leads a family group that is traditionally opposed to Bhuttos in Sindh politics.

Benazir said an impartial caretaker and a reconstituted election commission alone can ensure free and honest elections in an environment free of emergency.

Soomro was installed hours before the arrival of a senior US diplomat, deputy secretary of state John Negroponte, amid reports he will push General Musharraf to end the emergency rule, take off uniform and free thousands of detained opposition figures.

Negroponte, who last week warned against cutting aid to an “indispensable” security ally, is likely to meet Bhutto. Negroponte is expected to try to salvage Musharraf-Bhutto dialogue.

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