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Sharif firm despite Saudi plea

London, Sept. 8 (AP): Pakistan’s exiled former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said today that he would return home today despite a request from Saudi Arabia to abandon his planned trip.

“I will go back to Pakistan on September 10 with my brother because my country needs me,” he told a news conference in London, hours after a Saudi envoy urged him to respect a 2000 agreement under which he had agreed to leave Pakistan for 10 years.

Sharif acknowledged Lebanese lawmaker Saad Hariri, who visited a jail in Pakistan after Sharif was convicted on terrorism and hijacking charges, had secured his release under an understanding that the former Prime Minister would not return for a decade.

However, he said he refused to stay away from Pakistan for such a long period.

Later, “Saad Hariri assured me that I will have to stay away from Pakistan for five years, although such thing was mot mentioned in a document,” which Sharif signed after being encouraged to do so by the Saudi King Abdullah, he said.

“I agreed to it after receiving a verbal assurance from Saad Hariri,” he said.

Sharif’s comments came hours after Abdullah’s envoy Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Hariri told a news conference in Pakistan that Sharif should honour his word by not returning home. They spoke after meeting President Pervez Musharraf.

Sharif, the two-time Premier, said he will not follow their suggestion.

Sharif was toppled in Musharraf's 1999 coup, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment before being released into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Sharif has said that he was returning to Pakistan to ensure the rule of law, freedom of press and undiluted democracy.

Muqrin said he hoped everyone would put Pakistan’s national interest and security before personal interest. He said King Abdullah “helped the Sharif family to get out of imprisonment” with the agreement.

The king “hopes for the sake of the national interest of Pakistan that all parties concerned with the agreement will honour and adhere to the terms”, Muqrin said.

Asked about the supreme court ruling that Sharif had the right to come home, Muqrin said:“Which comes first, the agreement or the supreme court' We respect fully the supreme court and law of every land but you still have an agreement.”

Saad al-Hariri has met Sharif in Britain but Sharif had rejected any suggestion he will postpone his return, a Pakistani official said.

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