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Last Updated: Monday, 31 December 2007, 15:41 GMT
Pakistan delays election decision
Election banners in Karachi
Elections were less than two weeks away when Bhutto was killed

Pakistan's election body has delayed a decision on whether to put back elections planned for 8 January in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

A formal statement is now expected on Tuesday, although officials have told reporters that the vote will be delayed by several weeks.

Ms Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party does not want the poll to be postponed.

Meanwhile, the government says the country suffered colossal damage in the turmoil following Ms Bhutto's death.

A cabinet meeting was told that losses to the railway system alone amounted to about $200m (100m), with carriages and locomotives destroyed and signals damaged.

Correspondents say that life has been returning to normal in much of Pakistan, with many shops and offices re-opening.

Stocks fell by 4.7% as trading was resumed after three days of mourning following Ms Bhutto's death.

Sympathy vote

The ruling PML-Q party has said the 8 January vote should be delayed for several weeks, on the grounds that the vote would "lose credibility" if held under current conditions.

But the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) - now led by Ms Bhutto's widower, Asif Ali Zardari and his son, Bilawal - says it wants the elections to go ahead as planned.

The BBC's Chris Morris in Islamabad says the PPP wants elections as soon as possible, in order to take advantage of what could be a big sympathy vote.

The other main opposition party, led by Nawaz Sharif, has said that it is also in favour of holding the elections on 8 January, after dropping plans for a boycott and calling for a national unity government.

"Nobody here wants the elections to go after January 8," Mr Sharif said in the eastern city of Lahore.

The electoral commission has asked each of Pakistan's four provincial governments to compile reports on their readiness for an election.

At least 10 local election offices have been burnt down in the rioting which followed Benazir Bhutto's death.

PPP TOP LEADERS
Bilawal Bhutto
Asif Ali Zardari Benazir's widower and former political ally, has faced corruption and other charges
Bilawal Bhutto (pictured) Benazir's son, a 19-year-old Oxford University student, considered too young by some PPP members
Makhdoom Amin Fahim Senior PPP figure and top aide to Benazir

Ballot boxes and voting screens have been destroyed and the printing of ballot papers - and their delivery around the country - has also been disrupted.

Too young

If the election does go ahead, it is not clear who the PPP would propose as prime minister.

At 19, Bilawal is legally too young to stand for parliament.

And his father has been repeatedly accused of corruption - though he denies the charges and has never been convicted in court.

Mr Zardari said PPP vice-chairman Makhdoom Amin Fahim would probably be its candidate for prime minister.

Bilawal was chosen to take over the PPP leadership from his late mother at a meeting in the party stronghold of Naudero, near Larkana in the south of the country.

Bilawal, who will be a titular head while he finishes his studies at Oxford University, said: "My mother always said democracy is the best revenge."

The Dawn newspaper highlights suspects accused of killing Benazir Bhutto
Pakistani media picked out two suspected attackers, one of whom apparently raised a gun (bottom)

Mr Fahim said Mr Zardari had been named party chairman, but had turned down in favour of his son - a decision Mr Fahim said the party leadership had endorsed.

Mr Zardari also announced that the couple's children would now change their names and be called Bhutto Zardari.

Mr Zardari added that he had refused to allow a post mortem examination on Ms Bhutto's body.

"I've lived here long enough to know how and where an autopsy would have been conducted," he said.

Instead, he said the party was asking the United Nations and the British government to conduct an investigation similar to the one carried out after the killing of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

And he appealed for an end to the unrest in Pakistan, which has killed at least 38 people since Ms Bhutto's murder.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also called for calm in the country and stressed the importance of holding free elections, in an article for Pakistan's Daily Jang newspaper.



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Violent protests on the streets of Pakistan



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