Sharif verdict sparks unrest in Pakistan
Former Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif (R) and his brother Shahbaz Sharif surrounded by supporters
Pakistan puts its troops on high alert in its Punjab province after a court ruling triggered political unrest in the violence-wracked country.
Paramilitary forces were deployed in the eastern city of Lahore after thousands of protesters set government properties ablaze and torched images of President Asif Ali Zardari, media reports said on Friday.
Supporters of Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-N party (PML-N) clashed with police in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Multan and several other cities in the central Punjab province. There were also smaller anti-government protests in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.
The unrest follows Pakistan’s Supreme Court decision, which prevents PML-N party Chief Nawaz Sharif from holding office.
The court on Wednesday also nullified a last year election of Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz, to the post of chief minister of the Punjab Province. Sharif’s PML-N holds power in Punjab, where his brother is chief minister but has now been ordered to step down.
Sharif had been convicted of involvement in the 1999 hijacking of a plane carrying the then army chief, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who later became president after ousting Sharif.
Sharif’s PML-N and the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) emerged as the two biggest parties after the February 2008 elections, defeating Musharraf’s allies.
The new Supreme Court verdict means that the Sharif brothers will no longer be able to join any legislature. Sharif and his supporters have accused President Zardari of being behind the ruling.
Security forces also sealed off the Punjab assembly in the provincial capital Lahore on Thursday morning.
Earlier on Thursday, a number of lawmakers from the PML-N — the country’s second biggest party — sat in front of the Punjab parliament after being barred from entry.
Zardari’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in his Friday’s weekly cabinet meeting is to focus on the situation arising after the court decision.
Earlier, Gilani, caused surprise when he said he had been shocked to learn of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Supporters of Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League-N party held protests against a Supreme Court ruling.
President Zardari addressing a meeting of Punjabi MP’s from the PPP said that demonstrations are part of democracy but loss of human lives and damage to public and private properties could not be tolerated.
The Court order is expected to deepen the rift between the Sharif brothers and the government in Islamabad led by the PPP. It has also intensified the confrontation between the two leading parties.
The development has deepened instability in the country at a time when the Islamabad is struggling to confront rising extremism and Taliban insurgency.