Former Pakistan PM Sharif launches defiant procession

Islamabad (AFP) –


Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif led a defiant procession Wednesday to his party's stronghold in the eastern city of Lahore as thousands rallied along the route, weeks after he was deposed by the Supreme Court.

Supporters clogged the streets in Islamabad, waving flags and chanting political slogans as Sharif's convoy headed south to the capital of Punjab province, where he hopes to bring tens of thousands into the streets in a show of force.

"The Supreme Court's judgement to disqualify him is disputed, so people have not accepted it," Sharif supporter Arshad Iftikhar, a retired government official, told AFP.

Thousands of police sealed off main streets in the capital and surrounding areas as fears lingered over security after a truck bomb exploded in Lahore Monday, killing one person and injuring dozens.

Others lining the route voiced frustration with the political elite.

"Around 50 percent of the people here are those who have just come to watch the scene," said bystander Nazakat Ali.

"These politicians are not doing any good for the people."

Sharif was the 15th prime minister in Pakistan's 70-year history -- roughly half of which has been spent under military rule -- to be ousted before completing a full term.

The top court sacked him last month after an investigation into corruption allegations against him and his family, bringing his historic third term in power to an unceremonious end and briefly plunging the nuclear-armed nation into political uncertainty.

The controversy erupted last year with the publication of 11.5 million secret documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca documenting the offshore dealings of many of the world's rich and powerful.

Three of Sharif's four children -- including his daughter Maryam Nawaz, his presumptive political heir -- were implicated in the papers.

Fresh questions have arisen over how Sharif's ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party (PML-N) plans to replace the ousted premier.

The PML-N initially named his younger brother Shahbaz as his eventual successor and Shahbaz was set to contest an upcoming by-election to enter parliament.

But media reports this week said the party appeared to backtrack on the plans, saying the PML-N would likely keep newly elected Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in place until next year's general elections.