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Sharif supporters plan ‘historic welcome’

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS

Islamabad : Ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s opposition Pakistan Muslim League is preparing to give its leader “a historic welcome” when he returns home Monday after seven years of exile in Saudi Arabia and Britain even as authorities made extra security arrangements.

The streets of Sharif’s hometown Lahore are wearing a festive look with colourful hoardings carrying his huge portraits and slogans in his favour like “Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif”, “Our hero Nawaz Sharif”.

Reports from Lahore said that the Rehman Street and Sharif’s home constituency Gwalmandi have been decorated tastefully.

In Rawalpindi, huge hoardings carrying pictures of Sharif and slogans in his favour could be seen on different city roads.

“We are preparing special dishes and have decided to distribute food among people,” a restaurant owner from Lahore said in a Royal TV programme. TV reports showed people decorating the streets and shops to welcome the deposed prime minister.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leaders in a press conference here said that despite the arrests of more than 3,000 workers, the party would give “historic welcome” to Sharif and his brother Shahbaz who are returning after seven years of exile.

Ahead of Sharif’s return, security around Islamabad was heightened and rallies were banned. Besides, large-scale arrests of party workers were carried out in various parts of the country.

The five-kilometre area around the Islamabad airport would be sealed after Sunday midnight and no one will be allowed to enter the area.

The people working at the airport have been issued passes and local authorities in Rawalpindi have declared Monday as public holiday.

Airport authorities refused security passes to journalists, saying no one would be allowed in the airport area after Sunday midnight except for those on government duty.

On the other hand, all vehicles and individuals entering Rawalpindi and Islamabad were being searched thoroughly.

The state-run Pakistan International Airlines has refused boarding to all political workers.

Though no clear plan has been announced, Sharif’s party officials said that he would be flying in by Gulf Air with a stopover in Masqat. The flight is scheduled to reach Islamabad 11.40 a.m. Monday.

However, reports said that Sharif had booked seats on many flights – Gulf Air, Ittehad, Thai Air and British Airways. All flights were scheduled to take off from the Heathrow airport of London Sunday evening.

Meanwhile, several other political parties like Muttahida Majils-e-Amal (MMA) and Imran Khan’s Tehrik-e-Insaaf have announced plans to welcome the Sharifs.

“I myself will go to the airport to welcome Nawaz Sharif,” MMA secretary general Qazi Hussain Ahmed told IANS.

He said that since Sharif has announced to launch a campaign against the dictatorship of President Pervez Musharraf, “we have decided to support the campaign and welcome him.”