Anger as Pakistani president addresses British rally
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was to attend a rally here Saturday as protesters demonstrated against his presence in Britain during the flooding disaster back home.
Zardari was due to speak at a political event in Birmingham, central England, for Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) members and leading figures in the Pakistani community in Britain.
Hundreds of demonstrators from various standpoints gathered outside the International Convention Centre venue in Britain's second city, chanting and waving placards.
It comes the day after Zardari held talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron, when the pair agreed to step up their anti-terror cooperation following Cameron's controversial claims about Pakistani attitudes towards terrorism.
With the flooding disaster affecting up to 15 million people in Pakistan, Zardari has come under fire from some quarters in Pakistan and Britain for continuing with his trip to Europe during the crisis.
Some demonstrators held up shoes to pictures of Zardari, while others held placards reading "1000s dying, president is holidaying", "Thousands killed, millions homeless, what president is laughing for?" and "Are the Zardaris enjoying England while Pakistan drowns?".
Mohammed Khalil, a local official from the Tehreek-e-Insaf party headed by former Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan, was among those protesting against Zardari.
"His own people are dying for food, there's calamity there," he told AFP.
"He should be there organising for his own people. Instead he's here with so many people. The government is paying all the expense for that. That money should be spent on the people of Pakistan, not on himself."
Taji Mustafa, from the Hizb-ut-Tahrir organisation, said Pakistanis were outraged.
"There is no self-respecting leader in the world who in this time of dire national crisis, while people are drowning, he is drowning in enjoyment, he is drowning having lavish dinners in the company of his die-hard supporters," he said.
Wajid Ali Burkey, a PPP business forums coordinator in Britain, defended Zardari as he went into the event.
"In the last 70 years we have not had such a disaster. But I don't think the president being there or not being there would have made any difference," he told AFP.
The demonstrators "have a right of opinion to believe he should not have come, but I personally believe it is very important."
The PPP is co-chaired by Zardari and his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
A PPP spokesman had said Bhutto Zardari would attend the Birmingham event and might speak at it but the 21-year-old on Saturday denied the rally was meant to launch his political career as he opened a donation point at the Pakistani High Commission in London.
The Oxford University history graduate vehemently defended his father's visit to Europe.
"He's doing the best he can and what he thinks is best to help the people of Pakistan," he said.
"His personal presence in Pakistan would not be able to raise this much money," he said, adding that multi-million dollar donations had been made by France, Britain and Abu Dhabi on the way.
"If he thought he could be more useful in Pakistan, I'm sure he would be there."
He added: "The floodwaters have devastated the lives of a people who have already suffered the most at the hands of terrorists.
"This is not a time to play politics. We need to do whatever is necessary to help our brothers and sisters in Pakistan."
© 2010 AFP