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Protests Erupt After Pakistan Court Bans Opposition Leader From Elected Office

Thousands of supporters of opposition leader Nawaz Sharif protested in Pakistan Thursday, angered over a court decision banning him and his brother from elected office.

Sharif denounced the Supreme Court ruling, blamed President Ali Asif Zardari, and called for more protests at a rally near the eastern city of Lahore in Punjab province. Around 20 lawmakers gathered outside the Punjab provincial assembly were detained.

Smaller protests also erupted in the capital, Islamabad, where police fired tear gas at a mob trying to block the highway to Punjab province.

Wednesday's ruling upheld the election ban on Mr. Sharif because of a prior criminal conviction related to his terms as prime minister in the 1990s. The decision also removed his brother, Shahbaz, as chief minister of Punjab province.

Late Wednesday, President Zardari compounded tensions by imposing governor's rule - direct rule by his representative - in Punjab for two months.

Following last year's general elections, Mr. Sharif's political party joined the ruling coalition headed by President Zardari's Pakistan People's Party. Mr. Sharif later quit after the president refused to reinstate top judges fired by former President Pervez Musharraf.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.