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Sharif's supporters 'rounded up'

BBC | September 9, 2007

Pakistan authorities have detained more than 2,000 supporters of exiled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his party said as Mr Sharif prepared to fly home.

Mr Sharif, who was ousted by President Pervez Musharraf in a bloodless coup in 1999, is expected to arrive in the capital Islamabad on Monday afternoon.

Officials plan to close roads near the airport and ban rallies nearby.

Mr Sharif has said he is determined to return home to lead a campaign against Mr Musharraf ahead of elections.

The Supreme Court ruled last month that Mr Sharif had the right to return to the country, but the government has urged him urged him to honour the terms of an exile deal which, it says, bars him from coming back for another three years.

'Country needs me'

Mr Sharif has denied agreeing to such a deal and insists he will return with his brother, Shahbaz, also a politician

"I will go back to Pakistan on September 10 with my brother because my country needs me," Mr Sharif said at a news conference in London on Saturday.

"I am going to lead the people of Pakistan against the dictatorship, and the dictator sitting in Islamabad should give up his futile efforts to stop me."

The government has said his return would destabilise the political environment ahead of a general election which is due in coming months.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Islamabad says Mr Sharif's return is a serious challenge to the general, who has lost a lot of popular support over a failed attempt to dismiss the country's top judge.

A spokesman for Mr Sharif's Muslim League party (PML-N) said more than 2,000 activists had been arrested over the past four days in Punjab province, Mr Sharif's powerbase.

A provincial police official admitted to detaining several hundred "trouble-makers".

The government has not said what it will do when Nawaz Sharif and his brother arrive. But the two could be arrested on various charges pending against them.

Some observers say they could even be deported, despite the Supreme Court ruling in their favour, our correspondent says.

After arriving in Islamabad, Mr Sharif and his brother plan to travel in a motorcade to their home in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, about 290km (180 miles) to the south.


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