Death penalty requested fort Pakistan's ousted premier

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The Independent Online

Prosecutors requested the death penalty for ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is standing trial on charges of hijacking and attempted murder in connection with an October coup against his government.

The provincial Attorney General Raja Quereshi told the anti-terrorist court he wanted the "maximum punishment" for Sharif, who prosecutors say refused landing rights to a plane carrying Army Chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf in a move designed to endanger the general's life.

Quereshi also sought the death penalty for Sharif's six co-defendants, including his younger brother Shahbaz. In addition to the attempted murder and hijacking charges, the seven are accused of kidnapping and terrorism. All counts carry a possible death penalty.

He said the court is obliged by law to hand down the maximum penalty. The law that established the special anti-terrorist courts was amended during Sharif's government to make it mandatory that the maximum penalty be applied to all cases.

The charges against the seven stem from Oct. 12, when Sharif - who had fired Musharraf as army chief of staff - allegedly ordered officials at the Karachi airport to close the facility and block runways in an effort to prevent the airliner with the general and 197 others aboard from landing.

According to prosecutors, the army took control of the airport tower, allowing the general to land safely. The pilot of the Pakistan International Airlines plane testified earlier that when the aircraft touched down, it had barely seven minutes of fuel remaining.

The prosecution asked for the death penalty as it launched its closing arguments today. There was no immediate reaction from Sharif on the prosecution's request.

The court will hear another two days of arguments from prosecutors before defense attorneys are given three days to wrap up their case.

The prosecution, led by provincial attorney general Raja Quereshi, said Sharif and his co-defendants conspired at a meeting at the prime minister's house to prevent the aircraft from landing.

Quereshi cited the testimony of Aminuddin Chaudhry, the former civil aviation authority chairman, who turned state witness in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

Chaudhry said Sharif ordered the plane diverted to the Middle East with the knowledge that it would not have enough fuel to complete the journey.

The trial resumed after a delay following the refusal of Sharif's lawyers to participate in the trial in Karachi because they feared for their lives after the shooting death one week ago of one of their colleagues.

The lawyers apparently reconsidered after the army government promised them additional security.

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