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Thursday, 6 April, 2000, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Muted response from Sharif's party
Anti-government slogans outside court
There were some protests after the verdict
By Shahid Malik in Lahore

The verdict in the trial of the ousted Pakistani Prime Minister has been met with a largely muted response from Mr Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML).

At the PML's headquarters in the city of Lahore, most party members refrained from commenting.

However another opposition party - the Pakistan Peoples Party of Benazir Bhutto - said that it was relieved that Mr Sharif had escaped the death penalty.

The muted reaction of the PML to Thursday's verdict may in part be a result of a recent appeal made by its acting head, Raja Zafar ul-Haq, for party members to remain calm whatever the verdict in the Sharif trial.

Sharif supporters pray
Prayers for Mr Sharif before the verdict
But political observers say there could be other reasons why the party has remained largely silent.

One of these may be that party members believed Mr Sharif would be given the death penalty, and were therefore relieved that he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Another factor may be the acquittal in the trial of Mr Sharif's brother, Shahbaz, another senior figure in the party.

There is a great deal of speculation about whether Shahbaz Sharif may now take over as the president of the party in the absence of his brother.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan People's Party, led by Mr Sharif's rival, Benazir Bhutto, has described the judgement as a relief.

A PPP spokesman said a death sentence for Mr Sharif would have caused further rifts within Pakistani society.

The leader of the Millat Party, Farooq Leghari, called the verdict an independent judgement, which will serve as a deterrent for corrupt future rulers.

Mr Leghari is a former President of Pakistan, who resigned three years ago following serious differences with then prime minister - Nawaz Sharif.

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06 Apr 00 | South Asia
Sharif: What happens next?
13 Oct 99 | South Asia
Profile: Nawaz Sharif
06 Apr 00 | South Asia
Trial revives Bhutto memories
05 Apr 00 | South Asia
Coup timing crucial to case
30 Nov 99 | South Asia
Analysis: Justice under scrutiny
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