ISLAMABAD - Former president Asif Ali Zardari on Monday warned that “religious fanatics and extremists” were out to destroy democracy.

In a message on the eve of the 38th death anniversary of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to be observed on April 4th (today), he said that the nation should stand together to foil the designs of the extremists.

He said: “On this day as we rededicate ourselves to the ideals of democracy we also pay homage to all those who laid down their lives and endured exile, torture and imprisonment in the cause of democracy.”

Bhutto was executed on April 4th, 1979 after a controversial conviction during the military regime of Ziaul Haq.

He remained on death row for nine months.

Bhutto’s government was toppled by Gen Ziaul Haq in 1977.

Zardari and his son – the PPP chief – Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, were in Larkana on Monday to mark the day.

Other party leaders also flew to the city.

Zardari and Bilawal are making effort to lift the performance of the party in the coming general elections, especially in Punjab.

They are also determined to contest by-polls to become part of the current National Assembly but have not given any timeframe.

The former president said that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a visionary leader who made the people of Pakistan the locus of all political power.

He said that the thought that bites the soul on his death anniversary was that the locus of power was fast shifting away from the people towards un-elected elements.

“The best way to pay tribute to the great leader is to arrest this slipping away of power from the people and restore it to their elected representatives. I ask the people to rededicate themselves to the ideal that all power belongs to the people and that power must flow from the ballot box and not from bullet,” Zardari added.

It is a measure of the extraordinary leadership of late Bhutto that the ordinary people who came in contact with him themselves became extraordinary, he said.

Bhutto, he said, awakened the people, gave them hope and illuminated the path traversed by generations that followed him.

As a beacon of light, hope and inspiration Bhutto stands tall in the annals of history of this country, the former president said.

“By giving unanimous constitution, Bhutto protected Pakistan from internal threats. By strengthening the defense forces he protected it against external aggression. For this Bhutto has earned a place in history that will always belong to him,” he said.

PPP Vice-President Senator Sherry Rehman said that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s memory loomed large over Pakistan’s history as the man who preferred to die than to live at a dictator’s will.

“He will be remembered as the leader who transformed politics forever in Pakistan, leaving behind a voice for the voiceless and a dream for those who hadn’t dared to dream,” she said.

The lawmaker said that Bhutto stood up for Pakistan internationally “where others feared to tread, and his intellectual prowess, his integrity as a person are a reminder to all of us of what once was, and can be again.”

Separately, Senator Rehman Malik paid tributes to Bhutto on his death anniversary. Terming April 4th as “Black Day”, Senator Malik said: “on this day in 1979 the country’s most popular and first democratically-elected prime minister was sent to the gallows through pre-planned judicial murder conspired by General Ziaul Haq.”

He said that Justice Naseem Hassan Shah and other judges had already confessed it publically that they had passed the judgment against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto under pressure.