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Former Pakistani Premier In Saudi Arabia After Deportation

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif waves as he steps off his plane today at Islamabad airport, shortly before he was deported (AFP) September 10, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been deported from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, where he had been living in exile since 2000.

Sharif was arrested by Pakistani security forces who boarded his plane after he landed at the Islamabad airport this morning, on his first trip back to Pakistan in seven years. He was charged with money laundering before being sent back to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The European Union Commission said today that Sharif should have the opportunity to defend himself against the charges in a Pakistani court. The Pakistani Supreme Court ruled last month that Sharif has a right to a court hearing in Pakistan.

The White House today described Pakistan's decision to deport Sharif as an "internal matter." Nevertheless, national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe called for Pakistan's coming presidential elections to be "free and fair."

Sharif's son, Hasan Sharif, said in London that despite the expulsion, the former prime minister will return to Pakistan "as soon as he can."

Earlier today, police clashed with Sharif's supporters who had tried to make their way past barricades to welcome him at the airport in Pakistan. Key members and activists of Sharif's party also were arrested.

Sharif was ousted by current President Pervez Musharraf in a coup in 1999. He was charged with hijacking and corruption and jailed for a year. His life sentence was then revoked after he allegedly agreed to stay in exile for 10 years, a deal that Sharif claims was never made.

'This Is My Mission'

Before boarding the plane in London on September 9, Sharif told reporters that he was returning home to challenge President Musharraf's military rule in an election that is expected to take place later this year.

"This opportunity will not come again. It is rare that such opportunities arise," Sharif said. "The whole country should take advantage of this opportunity and 160 million people must get their rights back. I have no other agenda, this is my agenda. This is the vision in my mind and this is my mission."

Earlier today, Sharif's supporters gathered near the airport to welcome him. Many chanted slogans calling on Musharraf to leave office.

News agencies report that police clashed with Sharif's supporters and arrested some of them, including several members of the former prime minister's Muslim League party.

Sharif served twice as Pakistani prime minister in the 1990s.

He was first elected in 1990, after Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was dismissed. Three years later Sharif was sacked on corruption charges.

Sharif won the premiership again in 1996 after the dismissal of Bhutto's second government on corruption charges.

Bloodless Coup

In 1998, Sharif appointed Musharraf as chief of the military, but relations between the two reportedly soured over the conflict in the disputed region of Kashmir with neighboring India.

Suspecting that Musharraf was planning to overthrow him, Sharif tried to sack the army leader while he was flying back from Sri Lanka.

However, the army ended Sharif's rule in a bloodless coup, installing Musharraf as president.

After his year in prison, Sharif was sent in exile to Saudi Arabia in December 2000 along with several members of his extended family. The Pakistani government announced at the time that Sharif and his family would stay out of the country for 10 years.

(with material from agency reports)