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Nawaz Sharif arrives in Pakistan

  • Story Highlights
  • Former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif arrives in Lahore
  • Police arrest hundreds of Sharif supporters ahead of his arrival
  • Sharif was deported back to Saudi Arabia in September
  • President Pervez Musharraf ousted Sharif in a bloodless coup in 1999
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LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- Former Pakistani prime minister and opposition figure Nawaz Sharif arrived in Pakistan's second-largest city Sunday, where he plans to end seven years in exile and directly participate in upcoming elections.

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Nawaz Sharif arrived amid a crowd of uniformed security personnel and throngs of cheering supporters

He arrived at Lahore's airport on a jet provided by the Saudi government at around 6:30 p.m. (8:30 a.m. ET). He emerged amid a crowd of uniformed security personnel and throngs of cheering supporters at the airport, where security was on high alert.

Speaking to CNN just moments before his plane departed from Medina, Saudi Arabia, Sharif denied reports that he struck a deal with President Pervez Musharraf's government that would allow him to return to Pakistan.

"I haven't met any Pakistani government functionary over the last eight years, although there were a lot of overtures from the Pakistani side to meet me and to talk to me," Sharif said Sunday afternoon.

He said he has not changed his position on Musharraf, the man who overthrew him in a bloodless military coup in 1999.

"He is not a legitimate president of the country; I do not accept that, not at all," Sharif said.

It is the second time Sharif has arrived in Pakistan this year. He was quickly deported back to Saudi Arabia by Musharraf's government when he tried to return in September.

Political observers doubt he will be turned away this time.

Pakistani police set up on roadblocks leading into Lahore and the government had warned Sharif supporters they would be blocked from entering the city.

Pakistani police launched a crackdown on Sharif supporters ahead of his arrival, arresting several hundred at their homes and stopping hundreds more who were traveling to Lahore to welcome him, authorities and eyewitnesses told CNN.

Former Pakistani prime minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan in October, after eight years in self-imposed exile. While traveling from the Karachi airport, her motorcade was attacked, killing 136 people. She was unharmed.

Sharif -- who leads the opposition party Pakistan Muslim League -- said he has been talking to Bhutto "trying to find common ground" in uniting the opposition to Musharraf's government.

"We both have been interacting over the past few days, so let's see what comes out of it," Sharif said.

Sharif, like other opposition leaders, was highly critical of Bhutto for discussing a power-sharing government with Musharraf. Those talks ended when Musharraf imposed a state of emergency on November 3.

Sharif said that while his alliance -- the All Pakistan Democratic Movement (APDM) -- is preparing to participate in the January elections, they will only take part if Musharraf withdraws the emergency declaration and releases opposition members who have been jailed.

"Everything that was done must be reversed and drawn back completely," he said.

"Just withdrawing emergency will not be enough," he said. "You must have a level playing field for free and fair elections."

Asked if he could ever agree to a power sharing deal with Musharraf as president and he as prime minister, Sharif answered, "No, no, no, no question."

Sharif said he refused recent attempts by Musharraf to meet with him in Saudi Arabia. Sharif said he rejected the offer because the two men "are poles apart."

Musharraf met with Saudi leaders last week -- his first trip since imposing the state of emergency -- raising speculation that an understanding was reached with the Saudi government that prompted their support of Sharif's return from exile. A spokesman for Musharraf told CNN Sunday there was no agreement or understanding with Sharif.

Saudi authorities have been pushing Pakistan to allow Sharif back in the country. In addition to his aircraft to Lahore, the Saudi royal family also has provided him with a bulletproof car in Lahore, according to one of his deputies and a government source.

Convicted of terrorism, hijacking and tax evasion after Musharraf seized power in 1999, Sharif was released in 2000 in exchange for agreeing to 10 years of exile in Saudi Arabia. He retained his Pakistani citizenship but has not been allowed to travel to Pakistan or directly take part in Pakistani politics.

On his arrival, Sharif plans to visit the shrine of a Sufi saint, then go to his home in Lahore. He also plans to visit the burial site of his father, who died while Sharif was in exile.

The former official has no plans to call a news conference but was to make a statement at the airport in Pakistan.

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Last week, Pakistan's Supreme Court -- recently stacked by Musharraf with his allies -- ruled against the last challenge blocking the ratification of last month's presidential election. On Saturday, the election commission officially notified the federal government that Musharraf won.

The move clears the path for him to take the oath of office for the third time, which he has vowed to do after stepping down as the country's military chief. No date has been set for the swearing-in. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Karl Penhaul and Mohsin Naqvi contributed to this report.

All About Nawaz SharifPervez MusharrafPakistan

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