ISLAMABAD (AFP) — Pakistani police have rounded up around 50 supporters of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif ahead of his planned return to the country next week, officials said Tuesday.
The activists from Sharif's faction of the Pakistan Muslim League party were detained in Punjab province, Pakistan's most populous area and the base for the ex-premier's support.
Sharif has vowed to come back to Pakistan on September 10 and stop the re-election for another term as president of Pervez Musharraf, the man who toppled him in a bloodless coup in 1999.
"Around 50 of our workers have been rounded up from their homes and from party offices in several cities in Punjab," party chairman Raja Zafarul-Haq told AFP.
"The government is nervous about the return of Nawaz Sharif and they want to sabotage the reception he is going to get when he returns, but they cannot dent our commitment to our leader," he added.
"We condemn this vulgar, unconstitutional act by law enforcement officials at the behest of the president's regime."
Pakistani authorities confirmed that there had been a number of arrests from Sharif's party but would not give specific numbers.
"We have rounded up a few people because they are potential troublemakers who were instigating violence in their speeches," a government official said on condition of anonymity.
"It is not a general crackdown. It is specific to those who may create a serious law and order situation."
Another former premier, Benazir Bhutto, on Tuesday held talks in Dubai with Musharraf's representatives on a possible power-sharing deal with the president.
Sharif has criticised Bhutto for dealing with the "dictatorship".
However, former premier Sharif's intention to return to Pakistan was criticised late Tuesday by Saudi Arabia, the country that gave him shelter after he was ousted by Musharraf.
"Wisdom dictates that Mr Nawaz Sharif abide by his promises not to return to Pakistan and to political activity," said an unnamed spokesman quoted by the state SPA news agency.
The spokesman denied what he said were claims in some Pakistani newspapers that Riyadh "supports" the return of Sharif and his family to Pakistan.
He said the kingdom had offered Sharif asylum for humanitarian considerations, which the Pakistani government and Musharraf had responded to positively.
Sharif was sentenced to life in prison on tax evasion and treason charges, but under a deal brokered by the Saudi royal family, Musharraf released him in December 2000 on condition that he and his family live in exile in Saudi Arabia for 10 years.
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