facing lengthy prison terms, were arrested minutes after landing in the country on Friday as they returned seeking to revitalize their flagging party ahead of a July 25 election.
Underscoring the tensions gripping Pakistan in the run-up to the poll, a suicide bomber had killed more than 100 people at an election rally a few hours earlier, in the deadliest such attack in the country in more than three years.
I’m aware of the fact that I’ll be jailed, but it’s a very small price to pay for the great mission to save the sanctity of the vote in Pakistan,” Sharif told Reuters on board the plane minutes before touching down in the central city of Lahore.
Uniformed men escorted the Sharifs, who were sentenced in absentia on corruption charges last week, off the commercial flight, and a spokesman for their Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party confirmed they were arrested soon afterwards.
Their return represents a high-stakes gamble, but could shake up an election race riven by accusations Pakistan’s powerful military is working behind the scenes to skew the contest in favor of ex-cricket hero Imran Khan. He describes Sharif as a “criminal” who deserves no support.
Clashes broke out on Friday evening at the main highway entry point to Lahore between pro-Sharif protesters and police who had been deployed in their thousands, a Reuters witness said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The security situation has improved in recent years in nuclear-armed Pakistan, but the substantial threat still posed by militants was starkly illustrated by the attack on an election rally of a regional party in Baluchistan province, in southwestern Pakistan, that killed 128 people.
The bombing was the third incident of election-related violence this week.