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Pakistan Muslim League's Ejaz ul-Haq
"Nawaz Sharif is going to remain as president"
 real 28k

Monday, 10 April, 2000, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Musharraf says Sharif trial 'fair'
Man kissing poster
A supporter shows his devotion to Nawaz Sharif
Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, has defended the conduct of the trial of ousted premier, Nawaz Sharif, following criticism from abroad.

He described the outcome as "extremely fair."

The trial could not have been fairer than what has taken place

General Pervez Musharraf

Mr Sharif was sentenced to life imprisonment last Thursday by an anti-terrorism court in Karachi.

He had been put on trial after the military coup last October, when General Musharraf seized power.

"The trial could not have been fairer than what has taken place," said General Musharraf in comments to journalists during a visit to Paris.

There were expressions of concern after the verdict from the Commonwealth, and from France and the UK.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon said he was "dismayed" by the outcome.

However, General Musharraf described Mr McKinnon's comments as "absolutely unfounded."

Mr Sharif was found guilty on charges relating to the events of 12 October, the day of the military coup.

He was convicted of trying to prevent a plane carrying General Musharraf and 198 other passengers from landing at Karachi airport.

"I also highlighted that other than this aircraft case, there are dozens of corruption cases pending in accountability courts against the ex-prime minister," General Musharraf said.

Reports say that the Pakistani authorities are to question the former prime minister this week over the corruption allegations.

New lawyer

Meanwhile, Mr Sharif has hired a new lawyer to help with his appeal.

Azizullah Shaikh joins the existing team trying to overturn Mr Sharif's conviction.

Mr Shaikh has represented some of Mr Sharif's political rivals, including the husband of former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and Altaf Hussain, the self-exiled leader of the Muttehida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a local political group in Karachi.

However, he insisted he was a professional lawyer and had "nothing to do with politics".

"The only solace to me is (the) satisfaction of my professional ability and integrity," he said in comments to the Reuters news agency.

Mr Shaikh said he planned to file the first stage of the appeal on Wednesday.

The appeal goes first to the provincial high court in Sindh, and if that fails, to the Pakistan Supreme Court.

Reaffirmed as leader

Mr Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), has decided to retain him as leader.

Senior PML members met late into Sunday night in Islamabad to discuss their next move following the verdict.

Before the meeting, the PML acting head, Raja Zafar-ul Haq, said some activists wanted a new leader elected to head the struggle for a return to democracy.

Khulsoom Sharif
Kulsoom Sharif: Confident of party's loyalty to her husband
But Mr Haq said a majority of party members wanted the issue to wait until the courts decide on Sharif's appeal on the two life sentences imposed by an anti-terrorism court.

"Let us stick together as the PML (Pakistan Muslim League) has always stuck together," he said as the meeting started.

He dismissed newspaper reports that some members were unhappy with Sharif's wife, Kulsoom, who has been canvassing for her husband's release - an attempt seen by critics as a move to take over the leadership of the party.

She has called off a meeting of her supporters in order to participate in the Islamabad meeting.

She told the Dawn newspaper that those trying to raise the leadership issue would be "snubbed" by Sharif loyalists.

"There are only a few people who want to replace Mr Sharif," she was quoted as saying.

"All other members have personally phoned to give me an assurance that they are with Mr Sharif and continue to support him in the future."

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See also:

06 Apr 00 | South Asia
Sharif: What happens next?
06 Apr 00 | South Asia
Life sentence for Sharif
13 Oct 99 | South Asia
Profile: Nawaz Sharif
06 Apr 00 | South Asia
Muted response from Sharif's party
30 Nov 99 | South Asia
Analysis: Justice under scrutiny
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