Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Former Pakistani PM Sharif plans return on Monday


Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif said on Wednesday he will return to Pakistan next week to fight the military rule of President General Pervez Musharraf, despite a reported request from Saudi Arabia to stay in exile.

Musharraf ousted Sharif's elected government in a 1999 coup. Sharif was exiled to Saudi Arabia in 2000 after a Pakistani court convicted and sentenced him to life in prison, in part for allegedly ordering the hijacking of a plane carrying Musharraf, then the army chief.

Although Musharraf has repeatedly said Sharif left Pakistan under a deal in which he agreed not to return for 10 years, the Supreme Court ruled last month that he had an "inalienable right" to come back -- which Sharif plans to do next Monday.

However, Saudi Arabia's official news agency carried a report on Tuesday quoting an unnamed Saudi official as saying that Sharif should honor his commitment by not going back to Pakistan.

"Wisdom demands that Mr. Nawaz Sharif commit himself to the promises he made; namely, not to return to Pakistan and to political activity," the Saudi Press Agency quoted the official as saying.

Sharif said in an interview with Pakistan's Geo television that he would return next week.

"On Sept. 10, God willing, I will land at Islamabad airport," Sharif said from London.

"The soil of my country is calling me, and my countrymen are calling me. The conditions in my country are calling me," he said.

"No dictator can now stop our way. Now no one will make a joke of the court's decision," he said referring to the Supreme Court ruling that he could return to Pakistan.

Earlier, Raja Zafarul Haq, chairman of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party, acknowledged that Saudi authorities had played a key role in Sharif's release, but insisted that no Saudi official had issued any statement to stop their leader from returning home.

"God willing, Nawaz Sharif will come to Pakistan on Sept. 10 as per the plan," Haq told a news conference in Islamabad.

He claimed that authorities had already detained more than 250 of the party's supporters nationwide in anticipation of Sharif's return.

A senior police officer in Punjab Province, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed "some" Sharif supporters who could threaten law and order had been detained but not on the scale claimed by Haq.

Sharif is believed to have gone into exile in Saudi Arabia because he enjoyed strong ties with the Arab state during his two terms as prime minister in the 1990s.

Pakistani Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani described the response of Sharif's party to the Saudi news agency report as "irresponsible."

"Giving these kind of statements about the official stance of such a country is an irresponsible practice and it should be avoided," he told reporters.

When asked whether his decision to return home might strain his ties with Saudi Arabia, Sharif said: "I have conveyed all my sentiments and feelings to the king ... I have complete contact with him."

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