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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 March 2008, 10:50 GMT
Woman elected Pakistani speaker
Fahmida Mirza
Ms Mirza's husband is an associate of PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari
Pakistan's parliament has elected its first female speaker, weeks after polls delivered victory to the party of assassinated former PM Benazir Bhutto.

Fahmida Mirza, 52, was elected speaker with 249 votes in the 342-seat lower house, an official said.

Ms Mirza is a veteran politician and an ally of Asif Ali Zardari, Ms Bhutto's widower who succeeded her as leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP).

The PPP has agreed to lead a coalition government but has yet to name a PM.

An announcement is expected next week. There is growing speculation that the new PM will serve as a stop-gap until Mr Zardari wins a by-election and becomes eligible for high office.

Speaking before her election, Ms Mirza said it was time to "work together to address the challenges facing the country".

"I am sure that we will be able to face these challenges with the support of parliamentarians, our people and Pakistani media," she said.

The speaker oversees the workings of parliament, deciding which debates and motions may be allowed.

Ms Mirza, a businesswoman, has been elected to parliament three times from her constituency in Ms Bhutto's home province of Sindh.

Her husband, Zulfiqar Mirza, is a long standing ally of Mr Zardari.

The new parliament - comprising opponents of President Musharraf who swept to victory in last month's elections - met for the first time on Monday.

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