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The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones reports from Islamabad
This trial could takes weeks, even months
 real 28k

The BBC's Zaffar Abbas
"The military administration may find it hard to defend its position in the wake of the latest crisis"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 26 January, 2000, 13:00 GMT
Key witness testifies against Sharif

Mr Sharif's supporters protested outside the courtroom


A key prosecution witness has given evidence against former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a special Karachi anti-terrorism court.

Pakistan in crisis
Aminullah Chaudhry, a former head of Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority, has alleged that Mr Sharif ordered him to prevent an aircraft carrying army chief General Pervez Musharraf from landing at Karachi.

Mr Sharif and six co-accused are facing charges of hijacking, attempted murder, kidnapping and terrorism. Three of the charges carry either the death penalty or life imprisonment.


[Mr Sharif] instructed me to ... ensure that the flight should not land in any airport in Pakistan
Aminullah Chaudhry


In a separate development as the hearing got under way, the military government replaced Pakistan's chief justice, along with several other judges, for refusing to take an oath of allegiance.

Dismissed chief justice Said-uz Zaman Siddiqui was due to hear a case next Monday on whether the military government of General Pervez Musharraf that seized power in October is legitimate.

Key witness

Aminullah Chaudhry's testimony relates to events on 12 October, the day General Musharraf overthrew Mr Sharif in a bloodless coup.

Nawaz Sharif's charges
Hijacking
Attempted murder
Kidnapping
Terrorism
Three of the charges carry the death penalty


The general was returning to Pakistan on a commercial flight carrying 200 passengers, when his flight was refused permission to land.

The plane did in fact eventually land in Karachi, but the prosecution says that was only because the military launched a coup.

"PM Nawaz Sharif came on the line. He instructed me to obtain the details of the flight and ensure that the flight should not land in any airport in Pakistan," Mr Chaudhry told the court.

He said that Mr Sharif had told him to divert the flight to the Middle East.

Correspondents say Mr Chaudhry's evidence goes to the heart of the case.

musharraf Defence lawyers say they want to call General Musharraf to the stand


Originally accused along with Nawaz Sharif, Mr Chaudhry agreed to give evidence against the former premier in return for a pardon.

Earlier the trial was adjourned after demands from defence lawyers that it should wait until the Supreme Court had delivered a ruling on the legitimacy of the government.


"Presently the very existence of this country is in danger
Nawaz Sharif


The defendants arrived at court in a convoy of six armoured vehicles at 0815 local time (0315 GMT), heavily guarded by paramilitary troops.

The courtroom was packed with close relatives of the ousted Prime Minister, journalists, and foreign diplomats who are monitoring the trial.

In a statement handed out by his lawyers to the court, Mr Sharif criticised the military government for detaining him at a time of worsening relations with India.

"Presently the very existence of this country is in danger," the statement read.

"War clouds are hovering over us and in such circumstances the elected prime minister of the country has been put behind bars and has been alleged to be a terrorist, hijacker, jail breaker and the one waging war against his own country," Mr Sharif said.

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See also:
26 Jan 00 |  South Asia
Pakistan's top judge replaced
30 Nov 99 |  South Asia
Analysis: Justice under scrutiny
13 Oct 99 |  South Asia
Profile: Nawaz Sharif
18 Jan 00 |  South Asia
Evidence delays Sharif charges
11 Nov 99 |  South Asia
Pakistan's coup: The 17-hour victory
21 Jan 00 |  South Asia
Sharif had 'jailbreak plan'
14 Jan 00 |  South Asia
Pakistan 'committed to democracy'
13 Oct 99 |  South Asia
Profile: General Pervez Musharraf

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