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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Nawaz Sharif and daughter arrested on return to Pakistan

Police closed off parts of Lahore and supporters of ousted PM described Pakistan as being under martial law

Nawaz Sharif, the ousted prime minister of Pakistan, was on Friday night arrested and flown to jail minutes after flying back to the country to appeal a corruption conviction and try to revitalise his party's election chances.

Mr Sharif surrendered to waiting officials at Lahore airport at the end of a day of drama which had seen a draconian security crackdown in the city to try to block supporters rallying to his cause.

The former prime minister and his daughter were both transferred to a waiting plane and flown to Islamabad soon after they touched down having flown from London via Abu Dhabi.

Around 10,000 people had gathered near the airport after his Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party had called on supporters to mark his homecoming.

Mr Sharif was last week given a 10-year sentence by an anti-corruption court for failing to declare how he bought luxury flats in London's Park Lane. His daughter and likely political heir, Maryam, was given a seven-year sentence. He claims the investigation was part of a campaign by the country's powerful security establishment that wants to undermine his party and civilian rule.

He was sentenced in his absence while at the bedside of his wife in London, and vowed to return in a gamble to revitalise the electoral fortunes of the party now run by his younger brother.

Pakistan sees a general election on July 25 which should see only the third democratic transfer of power in the country's history.

As Sharif arrived in his Lahore stronghold on Friday, the election campaign was elsewhere marred by two deadly blasts. ISIS claimed responsibility for an election rally suicide bombing in Baluchistan province that killed more than 85 people. Another bombing earlier in the days killed four in Bannu.

Mr Sharif's return had been heralded by a sweeping security operation in Lahore which his party likened to martial law.

Scores of PML-N party activists were arrested on Thursday night in an apparent attempt to handicap plans to mobilise supporters to meet Mr Sharif's plane.

The arrests were followed by the installation of shipping containers and barbed wire on the route the PML-N rally was due to take.

By Friday afternoon mobile phone coverage had also been cut in parts of the city.

Marriyum Aurengzeb, the party spokeswoman, said: “I am wondering if this is not martial law. “

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Thousands of PML-N supporters were undeterred by the crackdown and travelled toward the airport in caravans of vehicles as the arrival time grew closer.

Gulraiz Umer, a journalism student at the Punjab University Lahore, told The National: “Every one knows who has sent my leader packing and now sending him to jail despite the fact that no corruption charges have been proved against him.”

One of his companions at the rally, Farhan Ashfaq, a local organiser in the PML-N party, said he had been lucky to escape the round up of thousands of party activists on Thursday.

He said: “I managed to escape arrest when police raided my residence yesterday night to stop the PML-N active workers to mobilise people for the rally.”

The party said more than 400 workers had been arrested in advance of Mr Sharif's return, though police put the figure closer to 100.

The night ended with small skirmishes between police and protestors in the Joray Pul area of Lahore.

More than a dozen PML-N workers and two policemen were hurt when police used batons and tear gas to disperse the crowds.