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Musharraf reopens charge against Sharif

By Andrew Buncombe, and Omar Waraich in Lahore

General Pervez Musharraf has dramatically upped the stakes in his confrontation with Nawaz Sharif by reopening a corruption charge against the former prime minister days before he is to return to Pakistan to challenge the military leader. And a court ordered a murder warrant for the arrest of Mr Sharif's brother, Shahbaz, who is to return from London with him.

An anti-corruption court in Rawalpindi held a hearing in a five-year-old case relating to allegations that Mr Sharif's family defaulted on a bank loan. The case had been adjourned for years but was reopened at the instigation of the government last month.

The government sought to have the hearing set for Monday – the date of Mr Sharif's return from exile in London – but the judge fixed it for next Thursday.

There is growing tension in Pakistan ahead of Mr Sharif's planned return, an event his supporters are trying to ensure is a dramatic spectacle with thousands of people turning out to support him. The government seems to be trying to stop this, and reports say hundreds of Mr Sharif's supporters have been arrested.

The apparent moves to deter Mr Sharif underly the vulnerability of General Musharraf as he seeks another five-year term as President. It had appeared that the general, who ousted Mr Sharif in a 1999 coup, had found a way to ensure another term by brokering a power-sharing agreement with another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who is to announce a date for her own return to Pakistan next week.

But on 23 August, the country's Supreme Court ruled that an alleged agreement preventing Mr Sharif from returning to Pakistan carried no legal weight and that the former prime minister and his brother should be allowed to return without being "hampered or obstructed" by the government. Mr Sharif promptly announced his intention to return and said he would do everything he could to ensure General Musharraf did not serve another term.

Some supporters of Mr Sharif believe the military leader may even try to prevent his plane from landing at Islamabad, almost echoing the events of the 1999 coup when Mr Sharif tried to prevent General Musharraf's plane from landing.

The Sharifs' planned return was also handed another potential setback yesterday: a court in Lahore ordered the arrest of Shahbaz, accused of ordering police to shoot five men dead in 1998, when he was the chief minister in Punjab province and his brother was prime minister.

Belfast Telegraph


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