132 people die in election violence ahead of Sharif’s return
LAHORE, Pakistan — The deadliest attack in Pakistan’s troubled election campaign killed 128 people, including a candidate, in southwestern Baluchistan province Friday before the arrest of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif upon his return from exile. Another four people were killed in a separate attack earlier in the day
Sharif returned late Friday from London, along with his daughter Maryam, to face a 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges, officials said.
The former prime minister was taken into custody to serve his sentence. However, he is expected to appeal and seek bail. It wasn’t clear when his appeal would be filed but he has until Monday.
Maryam Sharif, who faces seven years in jail, also was taken into custody.
The return was seen as an effort to win sympathy from voters before the July 25 election. Sharif posted a video on social media urging supporters to show up for the vote, and resist what he has called a conspiracy to oust his Pakistan Muslim League-N party from power..
Sharif’s party faces a stiff challenge from the PTI party of former lawmaker Imran Khan for control of the National Assembly.
Friday’s attacks heightened security concerns for the already fraught national elections.
In a horrific assault in the southwestern Baluchistan town of Mastung, Siraj Raisani a candidate in the provincial Parliament, died when a suicide bomber blew himself up amid scores of supporters who had gathered at a rally.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement carried on its Aamaq news agency. The group gave no reason for the bombing that killed Raisani, who was running for the election on the Baluchistan Awami Party ticket. Raisani is the brother of the former Baluchistan chief minister, Aslam Raisani.
Caretaker Home Minister Agha Umar Bungalzai said 128 people were killed and 300 wounded in the bombing.
An earlier bombing Friday killed four people in the northwest near the election rally of a senior politician from an Islamist party who is running for Parliament from the northwestern town of Bannu.
Sharif arrived in the eastern city of Lahore from London where he was visiting his ailing wife when a Pakistani court convicted him and his daughter of corruption.
Sharif’s son-in-law is currently serving his one-year prison sentence on the same charge, which stems from the purchase of luxury apartments in Britain that the court said were bought with illegally acquired money.
Before his return, police swept through Lahore, arresting scores of Pakistan Muslim League party workers to prevent them from greeting him at the airport.
Barbed wire was strung across some roads leading to the Lahore airport and barricades were positioned at the roadside ready to close off main boulevards should crowds start to gather.
In a video message Friday from aboard his aircraft en route to Pakistan, Sharif said he knew he would be taken directly to prison.
Sharif has been banned from participating in politics, and his brother Shahbaz Sharif now heads his Pakistan Muslim League and is campaigning for reelection July 25.
In his televised appeal to supporters from London earlier this week, Sharif took the opportunity to again criticize Pakistan’s powerful military, which has ruled the country directly or indirectly for most of its 71-year history. He said Pakistan now has a ‘‘state above the state.’’
During his term in office, Sharif criticized the military’s involvement in civilian affairs and its efforts in fighting extremists.
Pakistani and international rights groups have accused the military of seeking to maintain its influence in politics by keeping Sharif out of power.
The military denied the accusations, saying its assistance in carrying out the elections was requested by Pakistan’s Election Commission.
Friday’s bombings underscored the security threat. The smaller explosion targeted candidate Akram Khan Durrani, who escaped unhurt, and wounded 20 people, said Bannu Police Chief Rashid Khan. Durrani is running against Imran Khan in the election.