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'Sharif could be barred from polls'

Pakistan Attorney General Malik Qayyum expresses doubt whether ex-PM Nawaz Sharif can contest elections.

world Updated: Nov 26, 2007 15:20 IST

Stepping up his attack on President Pervez Musharraf, former premier Nawaz Sharif said the General has brought Pakistan to the "verge of disaster" and demanded ending the emergency, even as a senior government official on Monday warned that the PML-N chief could be barred from contesting the upcoming general election.

Sharif, who on Sunday made a triumphant return home from seven years in exile, told a huge crowd of supporters who gathered at the Data Darbar shrine: "Musharraf has brought Pakistan to the verge of disaster."

"When the constitution, fundamental rights are suspended, when people live difficult lives, when judges who make decisions according to the Constitution are ousted, will elections in such a situation not be a fraud?" he said from atop a truck carrying him from airport.

"Should not such elections be boycotted?" Sharif said amid chants of "boycott, boycott" by supporters. Earlier, he told cheering PML-N workers at the airport that he would strive to restore democracy and end dictatorship. "It's time for a decisive battle," he said, adding that he had made no deal with Musharraf to facilitate his homecoming. Sharif's convoy took some nine hours to reach his home from the airport, via the Data Darbar shrine.

The former premier said PML-N candidates would file nomination on Monday, the last day for submitting the papers, as part of the efforts to "oppose dictatorship", though a final decision on contesting the January 8 general election would be taken by the All Parties Democratic Movement by Thursday.

However, Attorney General Malik Qayyum said Sharif could be barred from standing in the polls. "As the election law stands today, it is highly doubtful that Nawaz Sharif can contest elections," he told Dawn News channel.

Sharif is likely to be barred because he had been sentenced to life imprisonment before he went into exile in 2000, Qayyum said. The prison term was awarded to him following his conviction on charges of corruption and attempting to turn back a plane that was carrying Musharraf back to Pakistan from a foreign trip in 1999.

Musharraf, who was then the army chief, contacted army commanders on the ground and succeeded in carrying out a bloodless coup against Sharif in October 1999. The two men have been bitter rivals since then.

Reports have suggested that Sharif had returned to Pakistan as part of some "tacit understanding" between Musharraf and the Saudi royal family, which reportedly told the military ruler that it could no longer host Sharif after the return to Pakistan of former premier Benazir Bhutto.

Sharif had earlier attempted a homecoming in September after the Supreme Court ruled that he was free to return, but he was arrested and deported back to Saudi Arabia within four hours of touching down in Islamabad.

Yesterday, police made no attempts to stop jubilant PML-N workers who broke through the barricades at the airport to welcome Sharif and top government officials said he would not be arrested.

After disembarking from the special plane provided by the Saudi king to fly him to Lahore, Sharif said: "My life and death are for Pakistan. We will fully participate in national politics as we don't believe in the politics of vengeance."

First Published: Nov 26, 2007 15:08 IST