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Monday, November 15, 1999 Published at 08:34 GMT

World: South Asia

Sharif allies deny murder plot charges

Tight security at the anti-terrorism court in Karachi

Four allies of Pakistan's ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif have appeared in court on charges of conspiracy to murder and hijacking.

The men declared their innocence as they left the court, which ruled they could be held on remand until 18 November.

Pakistan in crisis
Mr Sharif did not appear in court. He was widely reported to have been taken to Karachi on Sunday, but the BBC's correspondent in Islamabad says this now appears to be untrue.

Officials say Mr Sharif has not yet been formally arrested, despite being detained at an unknown location since the military staged a bloodless coup on 12 October.

The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones: "It seems the ousted Prime Minister is still in Islamabad"
On Monday a member of Mr Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League, filed a petition at the Supreme Court challenging the legality of the military takeover.

Last week the army filed charges against Mr Sharif and eight other men in connection with an incident in which an aircraft carrying army chief General Pervez Musharraf was refused permission to land in Karachi.

The aircraft landed after the army took control of the airport control tower, but fuel aboard the aircraft had run dangerously low. According to the charges against Mr Sharif there were only seven minutes of fuel remaining.

[ image: Mr Sharif could face the death sentence]
Mr Sharif could face the death sentence
General Musharraf said the refusal to allow the aircraft to land endangered his life and those of the 200 passengers and crew on board the flight from Sri Lanka.

The incident occurred as Mr Sharif tried to fire General Musharraf as army chief, and replace him with a junior ally.

The charges of conspiracy to murder and hijacking carry a death sentence or life imprisonment. The men are also charged with lesser offences of assembling people to commit murder and and physical endangerment.

On Sunday the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Durban, South Africa, condemned the military takeover and confirmed Pakistan's suspension. The organisation's Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, said the leaders also called for Mr Sharif's immediate release.

'No truth' to charges

Appearing in court on Monday were Mr Sharif's former adviser on southern Sindh affairs, Ghaus Ali Shah; former chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority Aminuddin Chaudhry; former head of Pakistan International Airlines Shahid Haqqan Abbasi; and former Sindh provincial police chief, Rana Maqbool.

[ image: Mr Shah rejected the accusations]
Mr Shah rejected the accusations
"There is no truth to the charges," said Mr Shah, who was represented by a lawyer.

"It is stretching too much. We have not done anything like this."

Two of the accused had yet to retain lawyers.

Like Mr Sharif, four other accused men have yet to be formally arrested. The authorities did not explain why Mr Sharif did not appear in court.

On Saturday they said his arrest was imminent.

The trial took place in an anti-terrorist court set up by Mr Sharif's own government. Trials in the court must be concluded within a week.

The military has said that it is also looking at other possible cases relating to loan defaults and tax evasion allegations but so far there have been no formal legal moves on those issues.

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