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Political Showdown Looms in Pakistan

Pakistan braces for a major political showdown a day after exiled former prime minister Nawaz Sharif announced his return on September 10. Mr. Sharif says he will challenge the reelection plans of Pervez Musharraf, the man who ousted him and sent him into exile. From Islamabad, VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports.

Eight years after Pervez Musharraf ousted him in a military coup, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says he is coming home to challenge the Pakistani president.

Speaking to reporters in London Thursday he dismissed fears that President Musharraf could have him arrested upon arrival.

"He kept me 14 months in jail," said Sharif. "He kept me in solitary confinement…he now once again is threatening me, I'm not scared…"

Mr. Sharif is demanding Mr. Musharraf step down as both president and head of Pakistan's military.

The showdown comes just weeks before President Musharraf is expected to seek another five-year term in office.

Public support for the Pakistani leader is plummeting. The embattled president is reportedly seeking the support of another former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. Ms. Bhutto says a deal is nearing completion but insists the president must quit the army before she backs his reelection.

Mr. Sharif's return intensifies the pressure on both Bhutto and Mr. Musharraf to resolve any outstanding differences.

Ms. Bhutto lives in self-imposed exile but still heads Pakistan's largest opposition political party.

Without her support analysts say the president may lack the political muscle needed to guarantee his hold on power.

In exchange, Ms. Bhutto is demanding the government drop corruption charges against her and her family and end legal restrictions preventing her from serving a third term as prime minister.

But the talks with her former rival have left Ms. Bhutto open to charges of political opportunism. Her domestic standing has suffered and many of her chief allies have argued against a political alliance with President Musharraf.

Mr. Sharif meanwhile is charging ahead. He has sharply criticized the talks and insists he would not cut a deal with the Pakistan president.

Mr. Sharif could also attract many of the president's top political allies, as the main political party backing Mr. Musharraf was formed after Mr. Sharif's exile and is filled with his former supporters.

Many suggest they will not vote for the president in next month's elections and a federal minister has already stepped down to protest Mr. Musharraf's continued rule.