The United States Monday urged Pakistanis to avoid violence and respect the rule of law as that country's political situation took a new turn with the deportation of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The State Department noted the expulsion was contrary to a ruling of Pakistan's Supreme Court. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Bush administration has strongly supported Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for his backing of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

But it sought to avoid taking sides in that country's internal political battles, and appeared to distance itself from Monday's decision by the Musharraf government to deny the return of Mr. Sharif.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the status of the former prime minister is still under legal consideration, but that his exclusion is at odds with a ruling of the country's Supreme Court.

"The decision to deport him runs contrary to the supreme court's decision. But as I said, it's still a pending legal matter. Our view of the wider issue is that we believe elections should proceed in a free fair and transparent manner, and that all involved in this political transition should turn away from violence and adhere to the rule of law as well as the constitution."

The Pakistani Supreme Court ruled last month that Mr. Sharif, who was ousted by General Musharraf in 1999 and sent into exile, had a right to return to Pakistan and that authorities should not obstruct him.

The decision on Mr. Sharif was the court's most prominent ruling since the reinstatement in July of Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who Mr. Musharraf had suspended earlier this year, triggering months of political unrest.

The United States at the time welcomed Mr. Chaudhry's reinstatement, by the high court, as a positive step and evidence of the strength of Pakistani institutions.

Spokesman here have since stressed U.S. support for upcoming parliamentary elections and expressed hope for a strengthening of the "moderate center" of Pakistani politics.

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is due in Islamabad Tuesday after a visit to Afghanistan.

The State Department said last week Negroponte would discuss counter-terrorism and other issues with President Musharraf and other officials in a continuation of the U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue.

However Spokesman McCormack said he is sure Pakistani politics would come up and that Negroponte will be ready to engage on those issues.