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Pakistani Court Bars Sharif from By-Election, Blocks PM Ambitions

A Pakistani court has barred former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from running for parliament in this week's by-election.

The Lahore High Court ruled Monday that Mr. Sharif was not qualified to run in Thursday's election because of convictions related to his overthrow in a 1999 military coup.

The decision deals a major blow to the popular politician, as it prevents him from running for prime minister.

Mr. Sharif's supporters protested outside the court, while his spokesman, Saddiqul Farooq, denounced the ruling. The spokesman accused the judges of being biased in favor of President Pervez Musharraf.

The three-judge court also decided today that Mr. Sharif's brother, Shahbaz, could continue as chief minister of Punjab province until the election commission could rule on his case. Shahbaz Sharif was elected to the provincial assembly following his acquittal in a murder case in March.

Nawaz Sharif was overthrown by the military in a bloodless coup in 1999 after he allegedly ordered the hijacking of a commercial plane carrying Mr. Musharraf, who was then the army chief. Mr. Sharif faced charges related to the aircraft's hijacking and alleged corruption. He denied the charges.

After spending years in exile, Mr. Sharif returned to Pakistan last year to head the Pakistan Muslim League-N party. The party formed a coalition government with the Pakistan People's Party after defeating President Musharraf's allies in last February's elections.

The former opposition parties united over the common desire to strip Mr. Musharraf of his powers and restore top judges the president dismissed under emergency rule last year.

The judges were fired after challenging the legitimacy of Mr. Musharraf's re-election as president while he was still army chief. Mr. Musharraf later stepped down from the military and had the judges replaced with more amenable judicial officials.