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Sharif loyalists arrested as former PM returns to appeal conviction

14 July 2018

The deadliest attack in Pakistan's troubled election campaign killed 128 people, including a candidate, in southwestern Baluchistan province on Friday ahead of disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's return to Pakistan.

On arriving at Lahore's Allama Iqbal Airport, scores of officials from the National Accountability Bureau, the country's anti-graft body, entered the plane to arrest Sharif and Maryam, who surrendered without any resistance.

Earlier, the ousted prime minister had released a video message ahead of his arrival in Pakistan, asking people to support him in his struggle which he said he is waging for the future of coming generations.

Former lawmaker Imran Khan, who hopes to become the next prime minister, condemned Friday's attack against his opponent, Durrani.

Both Mr Sharif and his daughter have denied the corruption charges and are returning to Pakistan to challenge the order. Local Geo TV said Sharif and his daughter were taken to another waiting aircraft to be flown out of Lahore, where more than 10,000 Sharif supporters were gathered to greet him.

At a party conference in London on Wednesday, Nawaz said he and his daughter will hear the election results from their prison cells, and added the bars will be broken by the outcome. But he said the people of Pakistan will not allow anything to prevent "historic" elections from taking place.

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Their swift departure prevented PML-N workers staging a hero's welcome on the streets of Lahore, where Sharif's brother, Shehbaz, led between 10,000 and 20,000 party supporters on a march in defiance off a citywide ban on public gatherings ordered by the caretaker government that took over in June, as Pakistan's constitution requires in the lead-in to an election.

Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif, who now heads the PML-N, was leading the procession to the airport.

The country's media regulator warned local news channels to abstain from airing statements 'by political leadership containing defamatory and derogatory content targeting. judiciary and armed forces'.

Nawaz was sentenced to 11 years in prison by a corruption court over his family's purchase of luxury apartments in London, whereas, his daughter Maryam was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Underscoring the security threat, were Friday's bombings that killed 69 people in the latest election related violence.

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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The arrest was made in connection with a recent verdict from an anti-corruption court. Maryam was convicted for concealing ownership of the apartments.

Sharif's return comes at a time of dwindling fortunes for his party, which a year ago was considered a run-away favorite to retain power. They both deny wrongdoing.

The three-time Prime Minister was ousted from office past year after a corruption investigation. So far the party has centred its entire campaign on Nawaz's allegations of a grand establishment conspiracy to keep the PML-N from power.

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

Strangely, Pakistan's mainstream electronic media only provided sporadic coverage of PML-N's activities during the day.

Supporters of Nawaz Sharif rally to receive their leader in Lahore on Friday, July 13, 2018.

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Sharif loyalists arrested as former PM returns to appeal conviction