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Sharif returns, finally, to rapturous welcome

Press Trust Of India  |  Lahore 

Says unite against Musharraf as Bhutto files nomination.
Former Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif arrived here today to a rapturous welcome by supporters after a seven-year exile in Saudi Arabia, demanding military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who ousted him in 1999, roll back emergency and provide "a level playing field" in January elections.
Wearing his trademark attire, the traditional white salwar suit and a black waistcoat, Sharif, 57, arrived in a special aircraft provided by the Saudi royal family at 6.15pm (6.45pm IST) amid tight security.
Thousands of Pakistan Muslim League (N) workers, chanting "Long live Sharif!" and "Go Musharraf go", massed outside the Allama Iqbal airport to greet Sharif despite orders issued by the authorities to prevent gatherings of five or more people.
"I thank God that I have arrived in Pakistan," the two-time prime minister told party leaders who greeted him on his second homecoming in three months which was distinctly different from his return in September, when he was arrested and bundled off to Saudi Arabia by Musharraf within four hours of landing in Islamabad.
This time, however, Musharraf had approved of his return following intervention by Saudi Arabia, where Sharif had been living in exile since being ousted, and breakdown of power-sharing talks between the General and another former premier Benazir Bhutto.
Declaring that he did not believe in politics of "vengeance," Sharif said "we will fully participate in the national politics," indicating his party will contest the general elections for which the filing of nominations will end tomorrow.
Arriving ahead of the January elections, Sharif asked Musharraf to ensure a "level playing field" to facilitate free and fair polls. "He (Musharraf) has to first roll back all that he has done since November 3, that is very essential, everything he has done since November 3 has to be reversed and rolled back completely before we could discuss about the possibility of any talks," Sharif said in Medina prior to his departure to Lahore.
Asked if he would agree to a power-sharing deal that envisaged Musharraf as President and him as Prime Minister, Sharif said: "No, no, no, no question."
"I can't alone decide, of course the All Parties Democratic Movement can decide on it (holding talks with Musharraf)," he added. Many supporters broke through police barricades and entered the airport, shouting slogans and waving posters and the PML-N's green flags.
After disembarking from the aircraft, Sharif and his brother Shahbaz were escorted to the airport building by a large group of policemen. They were hugged and embraced by many PML-N leaders.
Party workers jostled with each other and policemen to get a glimpse of their leader. Some party workers carried Shahbaz on their shoulders when he and a jubilant Sharif emerged from the VIP lounge.
The scenes were reminiscent of former premier and Pakistan People's Party leader Benazir Bhutto's return to Karachi from eight years in exile on October 18, though the turnout for Sharif was smaller.
In marked contrast to the unceremonious way Sharif was deported on his return to Islamabad on September 10, state-run PTV was the first channel to beam pictures of the former premier entering the airport.
Sharif waved and shook hands with cheering PML-N supporters outside the airport. He briefly addressed the workers to thank them before joining a motorcade that took him to Daatta Darbar, the shrine of 11 th-century Sufi saint Syed Ali bin Usman al-Hajvery or Hazrat Daatta Ganj Baksh.
Meanwhile, despite a call by an opposition group for boycotting the upcoming general elections, former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, submitted her nomination papers for parliamentary election at a city court in Karachi on Sunday.
Sharif flew in from Saudi Arabia, where he has been living in exile since late 2000, with his brother Shahbaz Sharif, wife Kulsoom and other family members.
Strict security arrangements were made in Lahore, with some 6,000 police personnel, including women, deployed on the streets and at the airport. Security was especially tight around the airport with police setting up barb wire barricades on the road to the airport and checked vehicles at random.
Officials said they were taking no chances with security as Sharif was returning a day after two suicide bombings in Rawalpindi, the garrison city near capital Islamabad, which killed nearly 30 people.
The Saudi royal family has given Sharif a special bulletproof car, which was airlifted to Lahore yesterday, while local authorities provided several more armoured vehicles. Sharpshooters were posted on the roofs of all buildings along the route for Sharif's motorcade and elite police commandos were deployed to guard Sharif and his kin.
PML-N leaders claimed hundreds of workers were detained last night but Sindh Governor Khalid Maqbool only a few dozen people were arrested due to security considerations.
In marked contrast to the unceremonious way Sharif was deported on his return to Islamabad on September 10, state-run PTV was the first channel to beam pictures of the former premier entering the airport.
Sharif waved and shook hands with cheering PML-N supporters outside the airport. He briefly addressed the workers to thank them before joining a motorcade that took him to Data Darbar, the shrine of 11 thcentury Sufi saint Syed Ali bin Usman al-Hajvery or Hazrat Data Ganj Baksh Sharif flew in from Saudi Arabia, where he has been living in exile since late 2000, with his brother Shahbaz Sharif, wife Kulsoom and other family members.
Strict security arrangements were made in Lahore, with some 6,000 police personnel, including women, deployed on the streets and at the airport.
Security was especially tight around the airport with police setting up barb wire barricades on the road to the airport and checked vehicles at random.
Officials said they were taking no chances with security as Sharif was returning a day after two suicide bombings in Rawalpindi, the garrison city near capital Islamabad, which killed nearly 30 people.
The Saudi royal family has given Sharif a special bulletproof car, which was airlifted to Lahore yesterday, while local authorities provided several more armoured vehicles.
Sharpshooters were posted on the roofs of all buildings along the route for Sharif's motorcade and elite police commandos were deployed to guard Sharif and his kin.
PML-N leaders claimed hundreds of workers were detained last night but Sindh Governor Khalid Maqbool only a few dozen people were arrested due to security considerations.

First Published: Mon, November 26 2007. 00:00 IST
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