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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 November 2007, 23:32 GMT
Sharif welcomed back to Lahore
After an aborted return in September, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has come back to a rapturous welcome from his supporters in Lahore, as the BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan reports.

Nawaz Sharif at Lahore airport, November 25 2007
Hundreds of supporters made their way to the airport to greet Mr Sharif

"I am here for the sake of democracy and the people of Pakistan," a visibly jubilant Nawaz Sharif told an emotionally charged crowd outside Lahore airport.

He had just arrived in the eastern Pakistani city after seven years in exile.

A week ago, Mr Sharif was very much a prisoner under wraps in Saudi Arabia.

He had been deported on 10 September hours after returning to Pakistan.

At that time, the only thing that could be said about his relationship with Gen Musharraf's regime was that it was non-existent.

But the return of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and her challenge to the army's hold on power has changed the picture.

Her deteriorating relationship with Gen Musharraf culminated in him taking a lightning, unscheduled trip to Saudi Arabia.

Two days later Mr Sharif and his brother, former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, announced their return to Pakistan.

Punjab is Pakistan's largest province and its political heartland.

This time the welcome was about as different as it could have been from the debacle in September.

Heavy Security

Leaders of Mr Sharif's PML-N party claimed 1,800 of their activists were arrested in the Punjab province the night before the Sharifs' arrival.

Local police officials, however, dismissed these claims saying only a few dozen were arrested in the province.

"We have arrested only 15 people for creating a law and order situation on Saturday," Malik Iqbal, Lahore's police chief told the BBC outside Lahore airport.

He had come to inspect the security arrangements ahead of the Sharif family's arrival.

Hundreds of policemen spread out around and inside the airport.

Another 5,000 police, in additional to the normal deployment, were also present.

Dozens of checkpoints were set up around Lahore, and all entry and exit points into the Punjabi capital were strictly monitored.

Supporters of Nawaz Sharif arrive at Lahore airport, 25 November 2007
Supporters lined the road and circled the perimeter of the airport

But the atmosphere had none of the palpable tension evident on Mr Sharif's earlier return.

Policemen stood by as a dozen PML-N activists chanted slogans in favour of the Sharifs and against Gen Musharraf.

The usual "Go Musharraf Go" was accompanied by "the son of Punjab is returning, our hero is returning".

"We have come here from Karachi to welcome Mian Sahib," said the leader of the group.

"He is the only one who can save Pakistan."

The response from the police was to grin, and wave their batons nonchalantly - rather than threateningly.

It was a far cry from two months ago when the same police had crushed any political protest that appeared.

"We have been absolutely told not to use any strong-arm tactics against them," a police officer told the BBC.

While most PML-N activists were kept at bay outside the airport, they were allowed to set up welcome camps around the city.

In other cities around the Punjab, thousands of activists were stopped and prevented from reaching their destination.

But in Lahore, hundreds of activists lined the road and also circled the perimeter of the airport.

Excitement

Some managed to sneak their way inside and chanted in front of steel barricades meshed with barbed wire fences.

I lived in exile for the people of Pakistan, and today I am here for them - I have no interest in power
Nawaz Sharif

The excitement seemed to grow along with the pronouncements of the PML-N spokesmen.

He briefed the media on the Sharifs' minute-by-minute movements.

Initially the Sharifs were scheduled to land at 1130 GMT (1630 local time). But that time was later adjusted to 1330 GMT.

Meanwhile, the activists were getting restless as the time was approaching for their leader's arrival, and senior party leaders appeared on the scene.

First they were prevented from going into the departure lounge, but then they were allowed in - but there was a catch.

They had to either bulldoze their way through, or vault over the steel fences.

Several of their political heavyweights threw away all pretence of dignity.

Raja Zafar-ul-Haq, president of the PML-N and veteran Pakistan politician, was among those seen scrambling over.

The chanting multitude near the barrier was in no mood to hang back.

Shouting "God is Great", they charged the barricade and broke through.

Only the heavy police presence prevented them from storming into the arrivals lounge.

But they could not be denied for long.

A huge cheer rang through the crowd as news that the Sharifs had landed reached their ears.

Minutes later, an avalanche of sound drowned out all other noise as Shahbaz Sharif appeared outside.

The euphoric crowd immediately picked him up and carried him out on its shoulders.

Another few minutes and he was joined by his ex-prime minister brother.

A beaming Nawaz Sharif spoke briefly before departing on tour of Lahore.

"I lived in exile for the people of Pakistan, and today I am here for them," he said.

"I have no interest in power. I only want an end to military dictatorship, and the restoration of democracy in Pakistan."

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Former PM Nawaz Sharif greeted by crowds in Lahore





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