African Press International (API)

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Pakistan deports ex-PM on return

Posted by African Press International on September 11, 2007

nawaz1.jpg<Nawaz Sharif was mobbed on his arrival at Islamabad

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been deported within hours of returning from exile.

After arriving at Islamabad airport he was arrested on charges of money laundering and put on a plane which later landed in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Sharif says he wants to challenge President Pervez Musharraf, who ousted him in a 1999 coup, ahead of elections.

Mr Sharif arrived in Pakistan weeks after the country’s Supreme Court affirmed his right to return.

On board the plane which flew him to Pakistan from London, Mr Sharif told the BBC he wanted to help restore the rule of law.

“It’s democracy versus dictatorship,” he said.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrives at Islamabad airport 10/9/07

I have a duty, I have a responsibility, I have a national obligation to fulfil at all costs and that is democracy

Nawaz Sharif

Once the plane arrived in Islamabad, paramilitary troops surrounded it and there was a stand-off on board as Mr Sharif refused to hand over his passport to immigration officials for nearly two hours.

Eventually he agreed to leave the plane and was escorted to the airport’s VIP lounge.

But shortly afterwards, he was separated from his entourage, returned to the tarmac and put on board a helicopter. Later, he was transferred to a plane bound for Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

Officials said he had been charged with money laundering and corruption.

Large numbers of police had set up barricades on roads to prevent Mr Sharif’s supporters from reaching the airport, while all domestic flights from Islamabad on Monday were listed as cancelled.

Plans abandoned

There were reports of clashes between police and crowds of Mr Sharif’s supporters in Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and Attok, where shots were fired and several people were said to have been injured.

One worker from Mr Sharif’s Muslim League party (PML-N) told the BBC he and about 20 others had been badly beaten by police outside the airport.

On Sunday, the party said more than 2,000 supporters had been arrested by the Pakistan authorities, while almost its entire leadership had been detained.

Supporters planned to launch a legal challenge to the deportation, which was “a violation of the court order under which Nawaz Sharif was allowed to arrive and stay in Pakistan,” his aide, Sadique ul-Farooq, told the Associated Press.

The religious affairs minister said the government believed it was acting in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling.

Police clash with protesters of Nawaz Sharif

Mr Sharif’s supporters were kept away from the airport

Mr Sharif was exiled to Saudi Arabia in 2000 after being deposed, under what the government says was an agreement that he stay in exile for 10 years.

The former prime minister has denied there was ever such a deal.

The European Union Commission issued a statement saying Mr Sharif should be allowed to defend himself against court charges in Pakistan.

“In our view the Supreme Court’s ruling is very clear and should be respected,” said a spokeswoman.

Political crisis

Mr Sharif had planned to lead a triumphal motorcade from Islamabad to Lahore, his political power base, but he was aware he might not be allowed the opportunity.

He decided at the last moment to leave his brother Shahbaz, also a politician, behind in the UK “to hold the fort” in case he were jailed or deported.

Mr Musharraf has made no secret of his contempt

for Mr Sharif, describing him as corrupt and incompetent.

But for the army, a decision to arrest him is as much a political as a legal decision, says the BBC’s M Ilyas Khan.

The military does not want to make Mr Sharif into a political martyr but it also does not want to see him campaigning for power, he says.

Gen Musharraf has been struggling to contain protests that have grown in strength since he tried to remove the head of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

The president plans to seek a new five-year term in office in an election due in the next month.

Lifted and published Korir, API*APN tel +4793299739 or +4763002525

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