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Sharif leaves for Islamabad amid cheers

  |   March 15, 2009 at 2:15 PM
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 15 (UPI) -- Opposition Pakistani leader Nawaz Sharif left his home in Lahore, Pakistan, and headed toward Islamabad Sunday as supporters cheered him, observers said.

Sharif, a former prime minister and leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-N Party, defied what his backers said was a house arrest imposed by the government and departed in a long convoy of cars to attend a national protest rally planned Monday in the capital, a Muslim League spokesman told The New York Times.

Cadres of security forces and riot policemen in Lahore melted away Sunday afternoon after firing tear gas at pro-Sharif demonstrators for more than hour, the newspaper said.

Speaking to Pakistan's GEO-TV from his car, Sharif said, "This is a prelude to a revolution."

Sharif emerged from his home Sunday urging supporters to follow him on a planned "long march" to Islamabad, the BBC reported. Riot police had surrounded Sharif's home Saturday night and blocked access roads, which government officials said was not to thwart protesters but to guard against terrorism.

After first claiming the former prime minister had been detained at his home in Lahore, Pakistani Muslim League officials later backtracked, saying no one from the party had received detention orders for Sharif and he was scheduled to lead protest marchers on a procession toward Islamabad as planned, CNN reported.

Pakistan interior affairs adviser Rehman Malik denied Sharif had been placed under house arrest, telling the BBC, "I categorically confirm no restraining orders, no arrest warrant, no house arrest. He's totally free to move anywhere in the country."

The political situation in recent days has been reminiscent of that in the last months of the administration of former President Pervez Musharraf. Lawyers, angry because President Asif Ali Zardari has not restored the judges ousted by Musharraf, have taken to the streets to demonstrate for an independent judiciary.

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