Pakistan Deported Former Premier Sharif Back

Pakistan sent former premier Nawaz Sharif back to exile in Saudi Arabia on Monday, hours after he returned home vowing to topple President Pervez Musharraf, the man who ousted him eight years ago.

Supporters of former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif hold posters with his picture during a small rally in Rawalpindi, Sept. 10, 2007.

Police detained the 57-year-old Sharif on corruption charges on his arrival at Islamabad airport following a tense standoff involving his passport. He was deported soon after, put on a plane heading for Saudi Arabia.

Sharif had pledged his return would provide "a final push to the crumbling dictatorship" of Musharraf, the army chief and key US ally who has watched his grip on power weaken after months of mass street protests.

Analysts said the return of the man he drove from power in a 1999 bloodless coup could have been the biggest challenge yet for Musharraf, fighting to cling to power in a nation awash in political turmoil.

But the government of Musharraf, who has seen his popularity slipping as the crisis has deepened, swiftly returned him to Saudi Arabia, where he was sent into exile in 2000.

The two-time former prime minister had arrived just hours earlier on a Pakistan International Airlines flight from London.

He shook people's hands after the plane touched down and his supporters on board chanted "Go, Musharraf! Go!" and "Long live Nawaz Sharif", a passenger on the aircraft told AFP.

Sharif quickly displayed his defiance by refusing to hand over his passport to officials for nearly two hours, prompting policemen to board the plane until he finally came out. He was arrested in the VIP lounge soon afterwards.

Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party said they had filed a legal challenge in the Supreme Court saying that the court had ordered the government not to obstruct him.

Sharif said it was time for the president-in-uniform to go.

After being ousted in 1999, Sharif was sentenced to life in prison for tax evasion and treason but was released in December 2000 on condition that he and his family live in exile in Saudi Arabia for 10 years.

But Pakistan's Supreme Court ruled last month that they could fly back.

The court has repeatedly proved to be a thorn in the side of Musharraf since he tried to sack its chief judge, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, earlier this year.

That bid set off the protests which spiralled into a full-blown political crisis for Musharraf, who has recently been negotiating a power-sharing deal with another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, to try to stay in office.

Musharraf has also faced growing criticism from the United States, which has taken him to task over Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants operating on Pakistani soil and urging him to make good on pending elections.

Source: AFP

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