Sharif spurns Saudi request not to return
Islamabad, September 5, 2007
Pakistan's exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif will return on September 10 to challenge President Pervez Musharraf despite a request from Saudi Arabia not to go back, his party spokesman said.
Sharif was ousted by army chief Musharraf in 1999 and exiled to Saudi Arabia the following year after being sentenced to life in prison on hijacking and corruption charges.
Pakistan's Supreme Court ruled last month that Sharif's had an "inalienable right" to return home but the government said he had pledged, in an agreement guaranteed by Saudi leaders, to stay in exile and out of politics for 10 years.
An unidentified Saudi government official urged Sharif on Tuesday to honour his commitment not to go to Pakistan and take part in politics, according to a report from the Saudi Press Agency, published on its Web site.
"Wisdom demands that Mr Nawaz Sharif commit himself to the promises he made," the Saudi official was quoted as saying.
Sharif still faces corruption charges in Pakistan.
But a spokesman for Sharif's party said the two-time prime minster was sticking to his plan to come home and he criticised Musharraf for dragging Saudi Arabia into Pakistani politics.
"Mr Nawaz Sharif's plan to return to Pakistan on Sept 10 is final. He is returning to Pakistan in the light of the Supreme Court verdict," said the spokesman, Ahsan Iqbal.
"It's unfortunate that General Musharraf, who cannot face Mr Sharif politically, is trying to involve friendly countries in domestic politics of Pakistan."
Sharif, who is in London, has vowed to launch a campaign to unseat Musharraf, adding to the problems the unpopular president faces as he prepares to try to secure another term in elections in national and provincial assemblies, expected in coming weeks.
Musharraf is in power-sharing talks with another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, who also intends to return. She says she will announce plans for coming back -- with or without a deal with Musharraf -- on Sept 14.
Bhutto, who also faces corruption charges, has been in self-exile since 1999. Reuters