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Ban on Sharif sets political showdown
Published on 26 Feb. 2009 11:49 PM IST
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The former prime minister Nawaz Sharif may well be the most popular politician in Pakistan. So a Supreme Court decision that bans him from holding office has set the stage for a showdown between his backers and the shaky Government of President Asif Ali Zardari. Pakistan is ill-prepared for more turmoil. Islamic insurgents are gaining strength, and the economy is on life support from international lenders. Analysts said the court ruling drew battle lines between Mr Zardari's Pakistan People's Party and its one-time ally, Mr Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). The two parties teamed up in February last year to take on the military leader Pervez Musharraf, defeating his party in parliamentary elections and ousting him from office six months later. But having gained power, they fell out. Mr Sharif's supporters protested at the verdict, saying they did not recognise the court's legitimacy. They repeated demands for the reinstatement of the former chief justice and other judges dismissed by Mr Musharraf in 2007. Supporters of Mr Sharif poured into the streets of big cities, burning tyres and chanting anti-Government slogans. Meanwhile, protests were staged across Pakistan on Thursday in the wake of a Supreme Court verdict declaring former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother ineligible to contest elections. Thousands of angry protesters marched across Pakistan and denounced President Asif Ali Zardari, the private Geo TV channel reported. The government called in paramilitary forces in some parts of Punjab province and put them on high alert, said the report. In a rally held in protest against the verdict in Punjab province, Nawaz Sharif termed the actions of Zardari as illegal, immoral and unconstitutional. Clashes erupted in the capital Islamabad where protesters threw stones at the police and burnt six vehicles on the Islamabad Highway, according to local TV reports. Private DAWN NEWS TV channel quoted sources as saying that the ruling People's Party and one of the opposition party Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid held talks and negotiations a power-sharing deal after the disqualification of Sharif brothers.The party called for nationwide protest against the ruling of the Supreme Court shortly after the verdict was announced on Wednesday. Gilani expresses displeasure Pakistani Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani on Thursday expressed sorrow over the disqualification of Sharif brothers and said the decision of the Supreme Court would weaken democracy in the country. Gilani said the government wanted to continue the policy of reconciliation but the verdict would benefit undemocratic forces. The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif were ineligible for elections. On the advice of Gilani, President Asif Ali Zardari Wednesday evening imposed the Governor rule in Punjab province. Gilani disclosed that he made a call to Shahbaz Sharif immediately after the verdict was announced and expressed his displeasure over the decision. Gilani said politics was a day to day affairs and no one knew what would be the scenario of politics tomorrow.

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