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Sharif 'sent back to Jeddah'

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 10 September 2007

Ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif was taken into custody this morning within hours of touching down on Pakistani soil for the first time since 1999.

He was arrested on money-laundering and corruption charges, according to a government official - and has since been put back on a plane heading for Saudi Arabia.

"He has been sent to Jeddah," a security official, who declined to be identified, told the Reuters news agency - referring to a Saudi city.

Sharif had returned to his homeland vowing to challenge president Pervez Musharraf in forthcoming elections. It was Musharraf who sent Sharif into exile seven and a half years ago following a military coup.

National and provincial elections will take place between 15 September and 15 October - with a general election to be scheduled before the end of the year. Musharraf is seeking re-election.

Around 4,000 members of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party were detained by the authorities ahead of his return - and at least five people were wounded in an exchange of fire this morning, according to witnesses.

The looming showdown, which could further weaken Musharraf's faltering grip on power, comes as the country battles surging Islamic extremism that has spread from the Afghan border, where Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders are believed to be hiding.

Additional reporting: PA News

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