Sun, Nov 25, 2007 - Page 4 News List

Former PM Sharif will return to Pakistan: aide


Exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif will return to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia today, a top aide said, two months after his last attempt ended with his deportation within hours.

His return would change the political dynamic in emergency-ruled Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharraf -- the man who ousted Sharif in a bloodless coup in 1999 -- has promised general elections for Jan. 8.

A senior government official said it would not obstruct Sharif's homecoming this time.

"We have no plans to arrest him," the official said. "The president has said he would provide all political parties an equal chance to participate in the elections."

Raja Zafar-ul Haq, the senior leader of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N party, said Sharif would land at the airport in Lahore, eastern Pakistan.

He will be accompanied by his wife and younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, Haq said.

The two-time former premier was banished to Saudi Arabia in December 2000 after being convicted of corruption and hijacking.

He tried to return a first time in September but was deported straight back despite a court ruling allowing him to live in his homeland.

The government said that under a deal arranged by Saudi Arabia, the PML-N leader had undertaken to live outside Pakistan for a decade.

On Friday, Sharif met Saudi King Abdullah in Riyadh with Saudi intelligence chief Prince Miqren bin Abdul Aziz also present, state media there reported, without elaborating.

The issue of his return was also on the agenda when Musharraf visited the kingdom earlier in the week. A Pakistani official said at the time that the military ruler pressed for Sharif to remain in exile.

Meanwhile another senior Sharif party official, acting president Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, said it was in touch with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party to decide whether to boycott the January elections.

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