sharif poster 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif was deported to Saudi Arabia on Monday, hours after he had landed in Pakistan from seven years in exile hoping to campaign against the country's US-allied military ruler, officials said.
About four hours after he arrived on a flight from London, Sharif was taken into custody and charged with corruption, but was then quickly spirited to another plane and flown out of Pakistan toward Jeddah, a close aide to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's said.
An intelligence official confirmed the information. There was no immediate formal announcement from the government.
Sharif's deportation apparently sidelines a powerful political enemy of the general, but it is likely to deepen Musharraf's growing unpopularity and reinforce public perceptions that he is an authoritarian ruler ahead of presidential and legislative elections.
It came despite a landmark Supreme Court ruling last month that the two-time former premier, whose elected government was ousted by Musharraf in a 1999 coup, had the right to return to Pakistan and that authorities should not obstruct him.
Musharraf's grip on power has faltered after a failed attempt to oust the country's top judge ignited mass protests, but he still plans to seek a new five-year term in office by mid-October.
His government is also struggling to combat surging Islamic extremism that has spread from the Afghan border where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.
Sharif's brother, Shahbaz Sharif, who stayed behind in London, said their party would submit a petition with the court to challenge the deportation.
"This will be counted as the blackest day in Pakistan's history," he said on Geo TV. "I do not have words to describe my grief."
The deportation is likely to stoke confrontation with opposition activists, who battled police Monday morning on roads leading to Islamabad airport that authorities had blockaded with trucks, tractors and barbed wire. None were able to get close to the airport.
Police fired tear gas and supporters threw rocks in at least two locations near Islamabad and also a bridge on main highway leading to the capital from Pakistan's northwest frontier. Several people were injured at each clash.
Former president Rafiq Tarar, a Sharif loyalist, said he was roughed up in one confrontation. Witnesses said Tarar was later arrested.
At least four other senior opposition leaders were also put under house arrest, officials said.
Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Iqbal Cheema said they were arrested "to ensure the maintenance of public order," under a regulation that allows authorities to detain suspects for up to three months without charge.
They included the head of a powerful political alliance that supports Sharif, Qazi Hussain Ahmed; another hard-line Islamic lawmaker, Liaqat Baluch; the acting president of Sharif's party, Javed Hashmi; and party chairman Raja Zafarul Haq, party and government officials said.