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Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s Ousted Leader, Calls Court Ruling a ‘Joke’

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s ousted prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, sharply criticized the Supreme Court verdict that forced him to step downlast week and said he was planning a big rally in his hometown, Lahore, to galvanize public support for his political party and his future.

“What can be a bigger joke with the nation, and with a prime minister of the country, than this?” Mr. Sharif said, referring to the court verdict, in his first news conference since his removal from office on July 28 after the court ruled that corruption allegations had disqualified him.

“It was not a verdict over corruption or kickbacks or embezzlement in the state funds,” said Mr. Sharif, who looked relaxed and confident as he spoke with journalists in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. “Had it been so, I would have been very ashamed.”

Mr. Sharif’s political party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, elected one of his longtime loyalists as prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who is expected to lead the government until general elections scheduled for next year. The new cabinet, sworn in on Friday, included almost all the ministers who had served under Mr. Sharif.

Both those developments seemed to indicate that Mr. Sharif, a populist leader who has served as prime minister three times, maintains a strong hold on his political party and will continue to call the shots from behind the scenes.

Mr. Sharif’s failure to disclose his role in a Dubai-based company run by one of his two sons led the Supreme Court to use a clause of the Constitution that requires public office holders to be “honest and faithful.”

“I never received any salary from my son’s company,” Mr. Sharif said. “How can a tax return about it be filed?”

He added, “I am a man who believes in the rule of law, but there should be law and there should be a rule.”

Revelations about the Sharif family’s offshore wealth first surfaced in last year’s Panama Papers, and since then, Mr. Sharif has faced allegations of corruption and money laundering, with the campaign spearheaded by Imran Khan, an opposition politician who hopes to win the prime minister’s office in the 2018 elections.

After months of court hearings and an investigation ordered by the judiciary, the Supreme Court concluded in July that Mr. Sharif and his children could not justify the means to buy the expensive properties they owned in London.

Mr. Sharif in his news conference stopped short of criticizing Pakistan’s powerful military, elements of which have been opposed to his rule. His attempts to establish civilian authority in areas that had long been dominated by generals, especially foreign policy, were thwarted by the military.

There have been insinuations by party leaders that the justices removed Mr. Sharif after getting approval from the country’s top generals. Representatives of the military’s intelligence agencies were included in the corruption investigation ordered by the court, helping fuel those rumors.

The military denies the accusations.

Some analysts here say the justices were driven more by their own sense of activism, not by the military’s prodding.

As Mr. Sharif plans to visit Lahore on Wednesday, his political power base, party members and supporters there are making elaborate arrangements for his welcome.

Mr. Sharif had initially planned to go to his hometown on Sunday by way of a highway he built during his second tenure as prime minister in the late 1990s, and which he takes great pride in.

But party leaders urged Mr. Sharif to travel to Lahore by the historic Grand Trunk Road, which runs through the center of major cities where Mr. Sharif is hugely popular.

Since his removal, Mr. Sharif has seemed buoyed by the warm reception he has received during his impromptu appearances in public. He said he plans to visit different parts of the country in the coming weeks and months.

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Muslim Global: Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s Ousted Leader, Calls Court Ruling a ‘Joke’
Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s Ousted Leader, Calls Court Ruling a ‘Joke’
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