Early morning arrival for Benazir Bhutto

PAKISTANI Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto arrived early yesterday morning to a still slumbering Singapore.

A special Pakistan International Airlines Boeing 707 aircraft, carrying Ms Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari, touched down at Changi Airport at 2.41am after a six-hour flight from Islamabad.

The elegant 41-year-old Pakistani leader was received by minister-in-attendance Dr Aline Wong, the Minister of State for Health and Education.

Also on hand to welcome her were Singapore’s High Commissioner to Pakistan Gopinath Pillai and Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the Republic Salim Nawaz Khan Gandapur.

Ms Bhutto’s three-day official visit, at the invitation of Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, is her first to the Republic as Pakistan’s leader.

She was accompanied by a team of 26 government officials, which included Minister of Foreign Affairs Sardar Assef Ahmad Ali and Minister of State for Finance Makhdoom Shahabuddin.

Also in her entourage were 18 Pakistani journalists.

Carrying a bouquet of purple and white orchids and looking bright and very cheerful despite the early hour, she smiled and waved to the reporters, photographers and Pakistani officials behind a cordon of security personnel.

After a 10-minute discussion with Dr Wong in the airport VIP lounge, she was led into a white Mercedes Benz state car andthe whole entourage – about 10 cars in all – headed for the Shangri-La Hotel where the delegation is staying.

Last night, she met overseas Pakistanis at a dinner reception hosted for her.

She will have a full day today, starting with a ceremonial welcome at the Istana. She will have talks with Mr Goh, who will host a dinner for her at the Istana. Both leaders will be present at the signing of a bilateral Investment Guarantee Agreement.

Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will also call on her separately.

Besides speaking at a lunch hosted by the Singapore Chamber of Commerce, the Oxford and Harvard-educated Pakistani leader will deliver a keynote address to 150 businessmen at the Fortune Global Forum tomorrow.

Ms Bhutto, a mother of three and the first woman ever to lead a predominantly Muslim country, said in a written reply to questions from The Straits Times that she would invite Singapore businessmen to invest in her country.

Singapore companies, which have a few investments in Pakistan mainly in the services sector, could take part in her country’s economic projects by setting up new enterprises or relocating their labour-intensive industries in Pakistan.

“I am confident that, once movement towards this direction starts, friendly relations that exist between our two countries will be further strengthened,” she said.

Pakistan is the Republic’s 40th trading partner, with total trade last year amounting to $574.1 million.

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