Sharif loyalists arrested as former PM returns to appeal conviction

Deposed PM Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz address a press conference in London prior to their departure for Pakistan

Former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam were arrested on Friday evening after they reached Pakistan, a week after they were sentenced to lengthy jail terms on corruption charges.

Pakistan's third major political movement, the Pakistan Peoples Party, joined the criticism of the crackdown, with its prime ministerial candidate Bilawal Bhutto Zardari questioning why Sharif's supporters would be prevented from gathering.

Sharif was last week sentenced in absentia to 10 years by an anti-corruption court for failing to declare how he bought Park Lane flats in London.

Pakistani and global rights groups have accused the military of seeking to maintain its influence in Pakistani politics by keeping Sharif out of power. The party's past five years in power has been punctuated by the civil-military discord that has plagued Pakistan since its inception.

The Etihad Airways flight EY243 arrived here from Abu Dhabi.

Upon their arrival at Lahore's Allama Iqbal International Airport at 6.15 p.m., both will be arrested and taken to Islamabad by helicopter to be imprisoned at the Rawalpindi Central Jail, Dawn online reported. The military denied the accusations saying their assistance in carrying out the elections was requested by Pakistan's Election Commission.

"Nawaz really believes this is about democracy and his legacy", Musadik Malik, Sharif ally and former PML-N cabinet minister, told Reuters. "That is why he is willing to lose 10 years of his life over this".

Mobile phone service was cut off by mid-afternoon, as Sharif's brother, Shehbaz, led around 10,000 supporters of his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) on a march toward the city centre in defiance of a citywide ban on public gatherings, according to a Reuters witness. In a tweet, he said there seems to be a conspiracy to sabotage the July 25 vote.

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Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan said on Friday that the Supreme Court has declared him "Saadiq" and "Ameen". The case against them, involving London properties owned by the Sharif family, also resulted in fines of eight million pounds for Nawaz and two million pounds for Maryam.

In a landmark verdict, the Sharifs were convicted by an anti-corruption court for not being able to prove a legitimate source for funds used to buy a set of upscale London apartments. They both deny wrongdoing.

Sharif had stepped down as prime minister in July after the apex court's ruling. His brother Shehbaz became PML-N's president, but Sharif remains the power behind the throne. I am aware that I have been sentenced to 10 years (in prison) and I will be taken to a jail cell straight away.

More than 300 leaders and members of the PML-N have been detained in a widespread crackdown on the party's activists in Lahore ahead of Nawaz and Maryam's arrival, according to local media.

A spokesman for Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party confirmed they were arrested soon afterwards.

PML-N has also had internal divisions. Sections of the party oppose Sharif's combative approach against the army, and fear it will turn off voters in a deeply conservative and patriotic Muslim nation of 208 million people. "Will they tell their children that they went to welcome the thief who had looted billions of rupees from the country?"

The security situation has improved in recent years in nuclear-armed Pakistan, but the substantial threat still posed by militants was starkly illustrated by the attack on an election rally of a regional party in Baluchistan province, in southwestern Pakistan, that killed 128 people.

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