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The BBC's Zaffer Abbas reports from Karachi
"Mr Sharif looked visibly depressed"
 real 28k

The BBC's Zaffar Abbas reports
"Mr Sharif denied any wrongdoing"
 real 28k

Friday, 19 November, 1999, 12:30 GMT
Sharif: I'm innocent
Heavy security greeted Mr Sharif when he arrived at court

Pakistan's ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has made his first court appearance since the military takeover last month.

Pakistan in crisis
Amid tight security at the court in Karachi, he strongly denied the accusations against him, of conspiracy to murder, kidnapping and plane hijacking.

"I did not conspire in a hijacking," Mr Sharif said in court.

"Hijacking is done at gunpoint. In this case the whole democratic government has been hijacked," he said.

This was the deposed prime minister's first public appearance since his arrest on October 12, and correspondents said he looked visibly depressed.

He told the court that although he was not subjected to physical torture, the conditions in which he was being kept were miserable and that he had not seen his defence lawyers for five weeks.

During the brief 20-minute hearing at the anti-terrorist court, prosecutors delayed formally charging Mr Sharif but ordered him to be held in police custody.

The charges refer to attempts to prevent a Pakistan International Airlines aircraft, with the army leader General Pervez Musharraf among the passengers, from landing at Karachi airport on the day the military seized power.

A supporter of the former prime minister is taken away from the courthouse
Public prosecutor Feroz Mahmood Bhatti gave no reason for the delay in laying charges, but said the former premier would appear in court again on Monday, after the expiry of the police remand.

Mr Sharif arrived at the anti-terrorist court in an armoured car escorted by 20 vehicles of the paramilitary forces, amid what correspondents describe as unprecedented security.

Four senior officials arrested on similar charges attended the court in a separate hearing.

'More arrests needed'

His co-accused include the then chairman of Pakistan International Airlines and the director-general of the civil aviation authority, both of whom are said to have been directly involved in the attempt to prevent the general's plane from landing.

They are all accused of endangering the lives of General Musharraf and 198 other people onboard a plane which was refused permission to land at Karachi Airport, despite being low on fuel.

At the hearing, prosecutor Raja Qureshi said more arrests were needed.

"The investigation is incomplete," Mr Qureshi told the court.

BBC Islamabad correspondent Owen Bennett-Jones said the delay in laying charges against Mr Sharif could be because investigators might have experienced problems marshalling evidence against him.

He said Mr Sharif's lawyers are arguing that he had no intention of harming the passengers on the plane because it could have landed elsewhere.

General Musharraf's plane only landed at Karachi airport after the army took over the control tower. The general went on to seize control of the country.

Solitary confinement

Since the coup, Mr Sharif has been held by the military, mostly in Murree, a hill station in the mountains near Rawalpindi.

One of Mr Sharif's lawyers, Iqbal Radh, said the former prime minister described to the court how he had been held since the coup.

"I was kept in a small room in Rawalpindi in solitary confinement," Mr Radh quoted him as saying.

"Some gentlemen came to me and questioned me. I stayed in Rawalpindi and then was shifted to Murree in cold weather and remained there in a small room without any facilities.

"I could not read any newspapers. I was not allowed to meet anybody," Mr Radh quoted Mr Sharif as saying.

Corruption crackdown

The former premier said he was unaware of the accusations against him until he appeared in court.

Mr Sharif is also among dozens of Pakistani businessmen and politicians of all parties detained in connections with allegations of corruption and embezzlement amounting to billions of dollars.

The arrests were carried out on behalf of Pakistan's new national accountability bureau.

The military authorities have said people found guilty of corruption will face jail terms of up to 14 years, while politicians found guilty will be disqualified from public office for 21 years.

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See also:
17 Nov 99 |  South Asia
Pakistan cracks down on defaulters
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Pakistan's coup: The 17-hour victory
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Sharif charged with murder plot
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15 Apr 99 |  South Asia
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17 Nov 99 |  South Asia
MP says Pakistan's ex-premier 'depressed'

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