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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pakistan Deports Ex-Premier Sharif

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was deported to Saudi Arabia on Monday, hours after landing in his home country from seven years in exile to head a campaign to replace the country's U.S.-allied military ruler.

About four hours after he arrived on a flight from London, Sharif was taken into custody and charged with corruption, but was then quickly spirited to another plane and flown to Jiddah, where he was whisked away in a convoy from the airport, witnesses said.

By deporting Sharif, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has sidelined a powerful political enemy, but the move is likely to deepen his growing unpopularity and reinforce public perceptions that he is an authoritarian ruler ahead of presidential and legislative elections.

Musharraf's grip on power has faltered after a failed attempt to oust the country's top judge ignited mass protests, but he still plans to seek a new five-year term in office by mid-October.

His government is also struggling to combat surging Islamic extremism that has spread from the Afghan border, where al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

Sharif's brother, Shahbaz Sharif, who stayed behind in London, said their party would challenge the deportation.

The deportation is likely to stoke confrontation with opposition activists, who battled police Monday morning on roads leading to the Islamabad airport, which authorities had blockaded with trucks, tractors and barbed wire.

Police fired tear gas and supporters threw rocks in at least two locations near Islamabad. Several people were injured at each clash, reporters said.

At least four other senior opposition leaders were also put under house arrest, officials said. A Pakistani Interior Ministry spokesman said they had been arrested to ensure public order.

They included the head of a powerful political alliance that supports Sharif, Qazi Hussain Ahmed; another hard-line Islamic lawmaker, Liaqat Baluch; the acting president of Sharif's party, Javed Hashmi; and party chairman Raja Zafarul Haq, party officials said.

The government defended the deportation, which came despite a Supreme Court ruling last month that Sharif had the right to return Pakistan, claiming it was in the "supreme interest" of the country.

Sharif appointed Musharraf to the post of military chief in 1998, but his attempt to fire him a year later triggered the coup that saw Musharraf seize power. Sharif, accused of corruption and denying landing rights to a plane carrying Musharraf that was short on fuel, was jailed but later released and sent to Saudi Arabia after allegedly pledging not to return for a decade.

Sharif had planned to travel in a motorcade to his home and political base in Lahore, about 290 kilometers to the south of Islamabad, to kick-start his campaign against Musharraf.

"Musharraf is capable of doing anything," Sharif told reporters on the flight from London.

"He could impose martial law, but if he does, he will be the first casualty because the country will not accept that, the people will not accept that, and I think the rank and file of the army will not accept that."