Pakistani President Returns Home To Flood Crisis

SUKKUR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari returned home on Tuesday from official foreign visits to a chorus of criticism over his government's response to the country's worst flooding in 80 years. The floods, triggered by unusually heavy monsoon rain over the upper Indus river basin that started nearly two weeks ago, have plowed a swathe of destruction more than 1,000 km (600 miles) long from northern Pakistan to the south, killing more than 1,600 people. Poor weather has grounded relief helicopters and more rains have compound the misery of more than 13 million people -- about 8 percent of the population -- whose lives have been disrupted by the floods, including two million homeless. Zardari, the widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and whose rule has been mired in controversy, enraged his critics by going ahead with state visits to Britain and France as the catastrophe was unfolding. The military has taken the lead in relief efforts while the government is under fire for perceived neglect. But while the crisis has reinforced the faith Pakistanis have in ability of their military, analysts say the armed forced would not try to take over the country, as it has vowed to stay out of politics and is busy fighting militants. A government official said he was expected to visit flood-hit areas within days, but for many Pakistanis, his trip comes too little, too late. Dozens of protesters in the southern town of Sukkur in Sindh also accused politicians of ignoring flood victims. "They want to save their own lands and factories. They don't care if Sukkur is drowned," said cloth merchant Salahuddin Ahmed. Zardari has been a ceremonial president since parliament adopted constitutional changes stripping him of his powers this year, and the government, led by his political party, said it was dealing with the floods and the issue should not be politicized.