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Sharif Deported Hours After Arriving in Pakistan

Supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif make an attempt to reach the airport at Islamabad on Sunday.
Pedro Ugarte
/
AFP/Getty Images
Supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif make an attempt to reach the airport at Islamabad on Sunday.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was deported Monday hours after returning to his home country from seven years in exile, vowing to campaign against the military ruler.

Within about four hours of stepping off a flight from London, Sharif was taken into custody and charged with corruption, but then quickly spirited to another plane and flown out of Pakistan toward Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, a close aide to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said.

An intelligence official confirmed the information. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity. There was no immediate formal announcement from the government.

Sharif's deportation apparently sidelines a powerful political enemy of the general. It came despite a landmark Supreme Court ruling last month that the two-time former premier, whose elected government was ousted by Musharraf in a 1999 coup, had the right to return to Pakistan and that authorities should not obstruct him.

Sharif's return was widely seen as a challenge to Musharraf's efforts to reach a possible power-sharing deal with another exiled former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto that would allow him to extend his rule.

But Bhutto herself now will likely face growing opposition within her own party to the idea of joining forces with the military leader. Like Sharif, she wants to contest general elections due by mid-January 2008.

Bhutto said she also plans to return to Pakistan, regardless of the outcome of the talks with Musharraf. She is due to announce her return date on Sept. 14.

Sharif's brother Shahbaz said their party would submit a petition with the court to challenge the deportation.

"This will be counted as the blackest day in Pakistan's history," he told Geo TV. "I do not have words to describe my grief. This is a tragedy for Pakistan that a dictator is disregarding the people."

Musharraf's grip on power has faltered after a failed attempt to oust the country's top judge ignited mass protests, but he is still plans to seek a new five-year term in office by mid-October.

His government is also struggling to combat surging Islamic extremism that has spread from the Afghan border where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

The deportation is likely to stoke confrontation with opposition activists, who battled police Monday morning on roads leading to Islamabad airport that authorities had blockaded with trucks, tractors and barbed wire.

Police fired tear gas and supporters threw rocks in at least two locations near Islamabad and also a bridge on main highway leading to the capital from Pakistan's northwest frontier. Several people were injured at each clash, Associated Press reporters said.

"We wanted to get to the airport to welcome the person who has challenged the dictator," said Asif Ali, one of the Sharif supporters near Islamabad. "We were tear-gassed and baton-charged."

Former President Rafiq Tarar, a Sharif loyalist, said he was roughed up in one confrontation.

At least four other senior opposition leaders were also put under house arrest, officials said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Iqbal Cheema said they were arrested "to ensure the maintenance of public order," under a regulation that allows authorities to detain suspects for up to three months without charge.

Sharif was sent into exile in Saudi Arabia seven years ago after he was convicted of terrorism and hijacking charges in Pakistan following the coup. Under a deal with Musharraf, Sharif allegedly promised to stay away for 10 years. Saudi intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud said Saturday in Islamabad that Sharif should respect the agreement and that Saudi Arabia was ready to take him back.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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