For­mer Pak­istan leader re­turns home to be­gin 10-year prison sen­tence

The Niagara Falls Review - - Canada & World - AN­TO­NIO OLIVO AND SHAIQ HUS­SEIN

IS­LAM­ABAD, PAK­ISTAN — For­mer Pak­istani prime min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif flew home Fri­day to start a 10-year prison sen­tence on a day when a bomb­ing at an elec­tion rally killed at least 70 peo­ple, height­en­ing se­cu­rity con­cerns for the coun­try’s al­ready fraught na­tional elec­tions.

Sharif, who was found guilty of cor­rup­tion this month, ar­rived in La­hore on Fri­day af­ter he and his daugh­ter Maryam Nawaz — who was sen­tenced to seven years in the same case — boarded a plane from Lon­don. The pair were ar­rested shortly af­ter their ar­rival at the La­hore air­port.

His re­turn is seen as a pub­lic show of ac­qui­es­cence meant to win sym­pa­thy from vot­ers in an elec­tion that an­a­lysts pre­dict could ei­ther spell the down­fall of one of Pak­istan’s most charis­matic lead­ers, or lead to civil un­rest and po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity.

Af­ter board­ing the flight Fri­day, Sharif posted a video on so­cial me­dia urg­ing sup­port­ers to show up in droves for the July 25 elec­tion, and thereby re­sist what he has called a con­spir­acy to oust his rul­ing party from power. His Pak­istan Mus­lim League-N party faces a stiff chal­lenge from for­mer cricket star Im­ran Khan’s PTI party for con­trol of the Na­tional Assem­bly.

“I know that I have been given 10 years im­pris­on­ment and I will be taken straight to the prison but I want to tell the Pak­istani na­tion that I am do­ing this for you,” Sharif said in his video. “I am giv­ing this sac­ri­fice for your fu­ture, so give me your full sup­port and go with me with your hands in my hands.”

Maryam Nawaz tweeted a photo of her hug­ging her dis­traught daugh­ter and son be­fore leav­ing for her flight, with the cap­tion: “Good­byes are hard, even for the grown-ups.”

The po­lit­i­cal drama has threat­ened to wipe away a rel­a­tive sense of calm in Pak­istan that has lasted for sev­eral years.

It be­gan when Sharif was ousted last April in a case that led the Na­tional Ac­count­abil­ity Court to find the Sharif fam­ily guilty this month of hid­ing its wealth in Lon­don apart­ments and other for­eign prop­er­ties.

On Fri­day, some of Sharif ’s sup­port­ers clashed with po­lice in La­hore.

Mean­while, a bomb­ing in south­west­ern Baluchis­tan killed at least 70 peo­ple at a rally for a can­di­date run­ning for the state leg­is­la­ture.

The blast marked the sec­ond deadly bomb­ing in less than a week. About 20 elec­tion work­ers with the sec­u­lar Awami Na­tional Party were killed Tues­day in a sui­cide blast in the north­west­ern cap­i­tal of Pe­shawar.

In hopes of sooth­ing vot­ers’ fears, the army an­nounced that 370,000 troops would man elec­tion polls July 25 in hopes of pre­vent­ing at­tacks and to pro­tect against pre­dic­tions of fraud.

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