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Sharif returns to Pakistan, demands end to emergency rule

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Former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif has returned from exile and demanded that his rival, President Pervez Musharraf, scrap emergency rule.

General Musharraf now has two powerful personalities to challenge his authority.

The other, Benazir Bhutto - also a former prime minister - returned last month.

With an election due to be held in January, a major power struggle is developing. Mr Sharif and Ms Bhutto are deciding whether to contest or boycott the election.

The two former prime ministers' return to Pakistan comes in the thick of a political crisis.

General Musharraf has placed the country under emergency rule and thousands of his opponents have been locked up. Senior judges have been removed and the media has been muzzled.

But at Lahore Airport there was jubilation as thousands of cheering supporters greeted Mr Sharif. His arrival back in Pakistan comes after seven years in exile and a stymied attempt to return earlier this year.

Mr Sharif denies his return is because of a deal with General Musharraf.

"I don't know who says that and what sort of understanding because I haven't met any Pakistani government functionary over the last eight years," he told the BBC.

His supporters also deny any sort of arrangement.

Mr Sharif says there were many approaches from people in Pakistan but he declined them all.

"I have stuck to my principled position that I have taken since 1999 when my government was toppled, and I think that was absolutely wrong, unconstitutional and unlawful, so I stand by the same stand even now," he said.

Criminal charges

Mr Sharif was born into a wealthy family in Lahore in 1949. He was elected prime minister in 1990 and again in 1997.

The military seized control of the country two years later and Mr Sharif was out. He was convicted of hijacking, terrorism and tax evasion.

Given a choice of life in prison or exile in Saudi Arabia for 10 years, he took the Middle East option.

The former leader rejects talk that now he is back he may face corruption charges.

"Let me tell you, there are no cases of any corruption against me or any member of my government, and there is no case," he said.

"If the Government wants to fabricate any cases of any nature, it is their choice."

There was tight security as the former leader arrived in Lahore. Only last month there were two bombings during Ms Bhutto's arrival in Karachi.

Mr Sharif has said he wants to rid Pakistan of military rule but the former prime minister is not spelling out his role, if any, in January's election.

"Every party feels very strongly that this is not the kind of environment where a free and fair election could be held," he said.

"Therefore I think all of us are going to review the situation on the 29th of this month and see what steps we take."

Mr Sharif won't say either whether he will work with or against Ms Bhutto.

He says that depends on her. © 2007 Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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