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Pakistan President Closes British Trip With Rally

  • Tom Rivers

President Asif Ali Zardari addressed Britain's Pakistani community Saturday while he endured criticism from back home for not being there to oversee relief efforts to combat the worst flooding Pakistan has faced since its founding more than 60 years ago.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari wrapped up his British trip by addressing thousands in the city of Birmingham. They were supporters of his Pakistan People's Party.

Mr. Zardari said his trip had been a success, but controversy dogged his journey with many questioning why he went ahead with it given the magnitude of the flooding in his country.

It is estimated that some 13-million people have been affected in some way by the disaster.

The President's 21-year-old son did not attend the political gathering. Instead, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari opened a flood donation center in London. In a broadcast interview, he defended the timing of his father's trip.

"He is using every single tactical stop of the plane on his way. He stopped here in Abu Dhabi and got three-hundred-million Dirhams from the Abu Dhabi people who have also promised to come and help the rehabilitation after the floods have gone, after the media have gone and after people are not paying attention. He has also come to France and got five-million pounds, five-million Euros from them, 20-million Euros from the British government. If he thought he could be more necessary, more useful in Pakistan, I am sure he would be there," he said.

But outside of the Birmingham convention center, dozens of noisy protesters vented their disapproval of the trip.

President Zardari traveled to Britain just days after British Prime Minister David Cameron accused Pakistan of exporting terror. That caused a diplomatic row. On Friday, at a meeting at Chequers outside London, Mr. Cameron's country retreat, the two leaders pledged their countries would fight terrorism together and spoke about "an unbreakable relationship" between the two nations.

Given his low approval ratings and given the large problems facing his country, many predict President Zardari's party will suffer in the next general election.

At the conclusion of the British leg of his trip, the president flew off to Syria.