Sat, Jul 14, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Nawaz Sharif heads home to face jail

‘NAKED’ ATTACK:The former Pakistani prime minister’s brother said hundreds of their party’s workers and supporters have been arrested to rig an upcoming poll

AFP, LAHORE, Pakistan

Pakistani authorities yesterday locked down parts of Lahore for the return from self-imposed exile of former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who faces possible arrest and a 10-year prison sentence ahead of already tense elections his party insists are being rigged.

Sharif was last week sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison by a corruption court over the purchase of high-end properties in London, dealing a serious blow to his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party’s bid weeks ahead of the July 25 polls.

He has claimed he is being targeted by the military.

“I know that ... I will be directly taken to jail,” he said in a video released by the party yesterday. “I want to tell Pakistanis I have been doing this for you... Walk with me, join hands with me and change the destination of the country.”

The production date of the video, which shows Sharif seated on a airplane, could not be immediately confirmed.

His brother Shahbaz Sharif, who now heads the PML-N, on Thursday said that hundreds of their workers and supporters had been arrested ahead of Nawaz Sharif’s expected return in what he said was “naked” pre-poll rigging against their party.

Shahbaz Sharif has pledged to marshal a welcome for the former prime minister, saying that thousands of supporters would travel to Lahore’s Allama Iqbal International Airport to back Nawaz Sharif.

“The whole world knows that PML-N is being targeted,” Shahbaz Sharif said. “We’ll go to the airport tomorrow, despite this brutality, and we will remain completely peaceful.”

Containers could be seen blocking some Lahore roads yesterday morning, while travel to and from the airport had reportedly been restricted.

Authorities have pinpointed at least 50 locations in the city to block if needed, said a local police official, who requested anonymity, as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Despite the crackdown, PML-N backers continued to flock to the city, vowing to confront authorities if challenged.

“We are going to airport and if anybody stops us then we are ready to go to jail,” 36-year-old Khurram Ehsan told reporters. “We can go beyond our limits for our leader.”

Nawaz Sharif late on Thursday left London, where his wife is being treated for cancer.

Pakistan’s election will pit the PML-N against its main rival, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which is led by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan.

The election would be only the second democratic transfer of power in the South Asian country.

Nawaz Sharif was the 15th prime minister in Pakistan’s 70-year history — roughly half of it under military rule — to be removed before completing a full term.

The military remains the most powerful institution in the country, and has faced blistering allegations over the past few months that it is pressuring the media and politicians in a bid to manipulate the polls against the PML-N.

The military has denied the accusations, saying that it has “no direct role” in the elections.

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