Charges delayed as Sharif is held in custody

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The Independent Online

The deposed Pakistan Premier Nawaz Sharif is to be held in police custody after an anti-terrorist court delayed formally charging him with kidnapping and hijacking, public prosecutor Feroz Mahmood Bhatti said.

The deposed Pakistan Premier Nawaz Sharif is to be held in police custody after an anti-terrorist court delayed formally charging him with kidnapping and hijacking, public prosecutor Feroz Mahmood Bhatti said.

Sharif, who left the courthouse in an armored personnel carrier surrounded by paramilitary Rangers, was to have been charged with the offenses, which carry the death penalty or life in prison. However, Bhatti said the judge ordered him held until charges are filed on Nov. 26.

The first step in Pakistan's legal process began about one week ago when a police complaint was filed in Karachi accusing Sharif and seven others of treason and hijacking.

Bhatti told reporters that Sharif will return to court on Monday. He did not give any explanation for the delay in the formal laying of charges. However, Pakistan's legal system allows for at least two remands in police custody of up to seven days each before formal charges are laid.

The charges against Sharif stem from an incident the same day of the coup in which a passenger aircraft returning Army Chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf to Pakistan was denied permission to land in Karachi.

The plane was eventually allowed to land - with just seven minutes of fuel to spare - after army soldiers took over the Karachi Airport control tower, removed two fire engines blocking the runway and switched on the runway lights.

Also charged in the same incident are: Ghaus Ali Shah, his former adviser on Sindh provincial affairs, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former chairman of Pakistan's national carrier, Aminuddin Chaudhry, director general of the Civil Aviation Authority and Rana Maqbool, former Inspector General of Sindh Police

The four men arrived at the anti-terrorist court also in an armored personnel carrier and accompanied by heavily armed paramilitary Rangers, said eyewitnesses outside the courthouse in the congested southern district of Karachi.

"The case against us is concocted," Shah told reporters inside the courtroom. "But I believe in our court system and I believe we will get a fair hearing."

Shah also is a former judge of the Sindh High Court.

It wasn't immediately known whether the four men would be further remanded, which is allowed under Pakistani law, or freed until a trial date was set.

Also on board the stranded aircraft that circled Karachi for more than one hour were 40 students of the U.S.-run international schools, attended by children of U.S. diplomats.

According to a court statement published in the English-language daily newspaper The News, the pilot of the aircraft Capt. Sarwat Hussain said he was told by the air traffic control "to take the carrier outside Pakistan's territory at his own risk."

After being denied permission to land and because fuel was dangerously low, Hussain said he diverted the aircraft several hundred kilometers (miles) north of Karachi. But halfway there he received a message that he could land in Karachi. He returned and "when the plane descended there was only seven minutes of fuel left," the newspaper quoted his statement as saying.

The control tower originally told the pilot to divert the aircraft to India, but Musharraf refused, according to an earlier interview he gave to the state-run news agency, The Associated Press of Pakistan.

At the time the army accused Sharif of trying murder the army chief.

Sharif also faces charges of corruption and defaulting on bank loans. As part of his takeover, Musharraf promised to clean up Pakistan's corrupt politics, recover illicit wealth and revive the economy.

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