Sharif facing treason charge

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The Independent Online

Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister ousted in a bloodless coup last month, could face the death penalty after the new regime, headed by the army general Pervaiz Musharraf, last night proposed charging him with treason.

Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistani prime minister ousted in a bloodless coup last month, could face the death penalty after the new regime, headed by the army general Pervaiz Musharraf, last night proposed charging him with treason.

Mr Sharif, with eight others, was also charged with kidnapping in an incident relating to the day of the coup, 12 October, when Mr Sharif told airport officials in Karachi to refuse landing rights to a plane carrying General Musharraf.

Mr Sharif had been on the verge of installing an ally as the new army chief of staff and had been trying to divert the general's plane away from Pakistan. The aircraft had only 10 more minutes of fuel remaining and was re-routed to the city of Nawabshah. The coup was instigated within hours of this incident.

Mr Sharif, who is in military custody, was also accused of assembling people with the purpose of killing and physical endangerment, both of which carry prison terms. Treason carries the death penalty.

The news prompted US calls for fair treatment of Mr Sharif. "We have continued to raise our concerns with Pakistani authorities about ... Sharif's well-being and our concern he be accorded due process," the State Department said.

The decision to charge Mr Sharif is more evidence that General Musharraf intends pursuing his campaign against "the corrupt politicians."

This month he announced the formation of a national accountability bureau to investigate corruption charges against Mr Sharif.

AP reports: A minister in deposed premier Nawaz Sharif's government called news that his former leader had been charged with treason and kidnapping, "a travesty of justice."

Former Religious Affairs Minister Zafar-ul Haq told Associated Press Television News (APTN) that he and his colleagues do not expect Sharif to get a fair trial by the army-led government, headed by Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf - the man who overthrew Sharif's elected government on Oct. 12 in a bloodless coup.

"We feel that even the trial would not be fair under the circumstances, it would be a travesty of justice," he said.

The army-led government filed charges after midnight on Thursday at a police station in the southern port city of Karachi charging Sharif and seven others with treason and kidnapping, both charges that carry either the death penalty or life in prison.

They also were charged with assembling for the purpose of committing murder and physical endangerment.

Haq said the former ruling Pakistan Muslim League, of which Sharif was the leader, will ask the army to allow lawyers access to the ex-prime minister who has been in army custody since the coup, unseen by family, friends or legal counsel.

Former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's party spokesman Khalid Kharal said that Sharif brought the charges upon himself.

However, Kharal said his trial should be in an open court "and he should be given an opportunity to defend himself."

In Sharif's hometown of Lahore, the ancient Punjab provincial capital, people took the news of the charges in stride.

The owner of a general store, Shafiq Ahmed had little sympathy for Sharif.

"He is accused of trying to kill more than 200 passengers and the army chief. The army chief is the symbol of honor for our nation," said Ahmed. "If he has done this thing then he should get the maximum punishment."

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