Pakistan readies for disgraced ex-PM Sharif's return from UK

PML-N workers protest outside a police station

PML-N workers protest outside a police station

Sharif is facing a 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam sit on a Lahore-bound flight due for departure, at Abu Dhabi International Airport, UAE July 13, 2018.

The rally kicked off at the Lohari Gate in the afternoon and could manage to proceed a few kilometers as party workers struggled to remove cargo containers on their way.Close to the airport, Sharif's supporters clashed with police which otherwise did not stop them from removing containers.

Nawaz and Maryam are expected to be shifted to Adiala jail in Rawalpindi, about 240km northwest of Lahore, to join Safdar in custody.

Hours before the Mastung attack, four people were killed in a bombing near the election rally of a senior politician from an Islamist party who is running for parliament from the north-western town of Bannu.

"Why is Lahore under siege?"

Adding to the tension surrounding the upcoming poll, a suicide bomber hit an election rally of a regional party in southwestern Pakistan, killing 85 people. "It is not easy to leave my wife on a ventilator in a hospital but I am returning along with my daughter to play our role to rid of this slavery", several media reports quoted, Nawaz, as speaking at a party conference in the ballroom of the Grosvenor House Hotel in central London's Mayfair district.

Sharif's son-in-law is now serving his one-year prison sentence on the same charge, which stems from the purchase of luxury apartments in Britain that the court said were bought with illegally gotten money.

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His daughter and political heir was given seven years in prison for failing to prove that money used to buy luxury flats in London in the 1990s was not ill-gotten.

Scores of PML-N supporters were arrested and 10,000 troops have been deployed on the streets of Lahore. The party's past five years in power has been punctuated by the civil-military discord that has plagued Pakistan since its inception. The military denied the accusations saying their assistance in carrying out the elections was requested by Pakistan's Election Commission. It plans to place 371,000 soldiers around polling stations so there can a "free and fair" elections, an army spokesperson said this week.

Sharif's return comes at a time of dwindling fortunes for his party, which one year ago was considered a runaway favourite to retain power. Maryam was convicted for concealing ownership of the apartments.

The case came to light after the 2016 Panama Papers revealed that the apartments were bought through offshore companies. They both deny wrongdoing.

The arrest will be a blow to Sharif's PML-N party, which is contesting a July 25 general election as the incumbent party, but alleges that it has been the victim of "political engineering" by its opponents during the campaign.

The elder Sharif had been dismissed as prime minister last July, after the Supreme Court ruled that he had lied on a parliamentary wealth declaration. His brother Shehbaz became PML-N's president, but Sharif remains the power behind the throne.

Since then, a host of his allies have been either disqualified by the courts, or face corruption cases.

More than 300 leaders and members of the PML-N have been detained in a widespread crackdown on the party's activists in Lahore ahead of Nawaz and Maryam's arrival, according to local media. PML-N loyalists have said they will march to the airport in defiance of a ban on all public rallies. Sections of the party oppose Sharif's combative approach against the army, and fear it will turn off voters in a deeply conservative and patriotic Muslim nation of 208 million people.

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