Ex-prime minister Sharif is barred from Pakistan ballot

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The Independent Online

The former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif a bitter rival of President Pervez Musharraf has been barred from standing in January's parliamentary elections. His candidacy was rejected yesterday after rivals complained to the Election Commission that his past convictions and alleged financial irregularities made him ineligible.

The commission upheld the complaint, announcing its decision as Mr Sharif met another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, to discuss whether their two parties would participate.

"His nomination papers are rejected because of his convictions," said Raja Qamaruzaman, an election official. Mr Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League, returned to the country last week following seven years in exile after Mr Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule sparked mass protests. He filed nomination papers in Lahore.

Last night, he and Ms Bhutto said they would issue a list of demands to the government which had to be met before they took part in the election.

In a show of unity, the two former premiers agreed that preparations for the poll were flawed. Mr Sharif, 57, was overthrown in a 1999 military coup led by Mr Musharraf, the then head of the army.

Mr Musharraf gave up his army post last week and was sworn in for a second term as president, this time as a civilian.

He had hoped Mr Sharif's party would take part in the ballot on 8 January to give the poll credibility in the eyes of the international community. Mr Sharif's lawyers said they might appeal against the decision by the Election Commission. Mr Sharif said he found the ban "surprising" and added: "We should now be fighting the dictatorship with more vigour and more determination."

He was convicted in 1999 of attempted kidnapping and tax evasion but claims the charges were politically motivated in the aftermath of the coup in which Mr Musharraf seized power.

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