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Pakistan Reopens Corruption Charges Against Sharif

The Pakistani government has reopened a corruption case against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and a court has ordered the arrest of Mr. Sharif's brother. The reopening of the case comes just three days before Mr. Sharif was due to return to Pakistan to challenge General Pervez Musharraf for the presidency. From Islamabad, VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports.

Pakistan's special anti-terror court issued the arrest orders for Mr. Sharif's brother Shahbaz on Friday.

The case dates back to 1998 when Sharif, then a provincial minister, was accused of ordering police to kill five men in Punjab province.

Shahbaz Sharif and his brother, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, are due to return to Pakistan Monday to challenge President Pervez Musharraf's bid for another five year term in office.

General Musharraf ousted Nawaz Sharif in a military coup in 1999. But the president's hold on power appears to be slipping, and Nawaz Sharif's return is seen as a major challenge to the beleaguered president.

In addition to Friday's ruling, the government has also reopened a series of corruption cases against the former prime minister.

The brothers' supporters say the cases are politically motivated.

"It shows how nervous they are and how much in panic they are. They cannot face him politically," said Ahsen Iqbal, a spokesman for Mr. Sharif's political party, the PMLN.

He says the Sharifs will follow through on their pledge to return to Pakistan September 10.

Both were sent into exile in 2000 and agreed to stay out of Pakistan for at least 10 years.

But the Supreme Court, whose Chief Justice Mr. Musharraf tried but failed to replace earlier this year, ended the former prime minister's exile last month.

The government has not said how it will respond to the brothers' return, but analysts say they face possible arrest or deportation.

Ahsan Iqbal insists the courts will ultimately exonerate the brothers and overturn the government's attempts to prevent their return.

"Now the government faces a choice. If they deport him, they have to deport the Supreme Court and the constitution," he said.

Thousands of Sharif supporters are expected to meet the former prime minister when he reaches Islamabad.

Ahsan says more than a thousand PMLN workers have already been arrested, and a broader crackdown is expected before Monday.

President Musharraf meanwhile is reportedly still pursuing a possible power-sharing deal with another former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto.

Mr. Musharraf is expected to seek re-election by October 15, followed by national elections in the next few months.