Date: 15 Jan 2008

Bilawal a ‘higher security risk’ than Prince William

OXFORD, Jan 14: Security was discreetly stepped up as the new term started on Monday at Oxford University, where Benazir Bhutto’s son has vowed to complete his student life despite being named her political heir.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari returned to his first-year history studies at Christ Church College after being named Ms Bhutto’s long-term successor as Pakistan People’s Party head following her assassination in December and looming elections.

Scotland Yard has been drafted in to protect the 19-year-old in a top secret operation which one security industry source said would cost “thousands and thousands” of pounds a month.

Despite this, Christ Church -- founded in 1529 -- was still open to visitors on Monday and, as usual, bowler-hatted porters manned its gates rather than police, although there seemed to be more officers than usual patrolling the street outside.

While the college has reassured students they have no reason to suspect a “direct threat” to Mr Bilawal, some in Oxford have already expressed concerns that his presence could pose dangers to others in the city.

“Go home, you endanger us all here in Oxford by being here,” one person wrote on the website of the local Oxford Mail newspaper, while another was hostile to the idea that British taxpayers would pay for his security.

“Idiots from his country want to kill him but I bet the British taxpayer is footing the bill for his security,” another added.

“Go home now and take the dangers you pose to others with you.” Scotland Yard, which is overseeing the security operation, would not discuss arrangements to protect Mr Bilawal, while Oxford University also declined to comment.

But Mike Faux, of private security firm Executive Group Holdings, who has worked with footballer David Beckham, the British royal family and singer Michael Jackson, told AFP it would cost “thousands and thousands” of pounds a month to guard him.He said he thought Mr Bilawal would likely have armed guards 24 hours a day who would use tactics such as decoys and convoy vehicles to protect him.

Mr Faux said Bilawal was now a higher security risk than anyone in Britain, including future king Prince William, and questioned the wisdom of his returning to university so soon after his mother’s killing.The officers protecting him would currently be on “code red”, he added.

“You’ve got a man here whose mother has been killed, he’s now a very high threat himself and he’s going about his life as a normal individual,” he said.

“What happens is the client wants to live a normal life, particularly at that age with parties... his advisers should be telling him no, he can’t do that.

“He wants to live a normal life but unfortunately he can’t... she (Benazir) did -- she said I’m going to carry on as I have -- but it cost her her life.” Christ Church seems keen to help Mr Bilawal realise his stated aim of being just like any other student at Oxford.

In an email sent to students just before the start of term, an official wrote: “We have at present no reason to suppose that there is any direct threat to Bilawal, but we do have a responsibility to try to ensure that he is able to lead a normal life as an undergraduate and benefit to the full from his time at Christ Church,” the Oxford Student newspaper reported.

But this may prove even more difficult than authorities at the college -- also attended by Mr Bilawal’s grandfather Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former prime minister, -- anticipate.

While Oxford is used to high-profile students -- others in recent years include Chelsea, daughter of then United States president Bill Clinton, and former British premier Tony Blair’s son Nicky -- none came with such a bloody political pedigree as Mr Bilawal.—AFP