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Sharif Listens to Testimony in Court

November 20, 1999

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) _ Deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif, accused of treason and hijacking by the new military government, listened in court today as four witnesses testified in the case.

Amid tight security, Sharif arrived at a Karachi district court in an armored personnel carrier along with four codefendants.

Reporters were not allowed into the courtroom to hear the witnesses’ testimony. The witnesses included Wing Commander Tariq Sheikh, who provides security at the Karachi airport, as well as Nadim Akbar, a control tower official who was working on Oct. 12 _ the day Sharif allegedly refused a plane carrying army leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf permission to land in Karachi.

Oct. 12 was also the day of the coup that ousted Sharif. Earlier that day, as Musharraf returned from a trip abroad, his plane allegedly was told to land elsewhere.

The plane was eventually allowed to land _ with just seven minutes’ of fuel to spare _ after army soldiers took over the Karachi Airport control tower, removed two fire engines blocking the runway and switched on the runway lights.

At the time, the army accused Sharif of trying to kill the army chief and all 200 passengers and crew members on board the aircraft. Among the passengers were 40 students of U.S.-run international schools, attended by children of U.S. diplomats.

According to a court statement published earlier this week, the pilot of the aircraft, Capt. Sarwat Hussain, said he was denied permission to land.

Because fuel was dangerously low, Hussain said he diverted the aircraft to Nawabshah, several hundred miles north of Karachi. But halfway there, he received a message that he could land in Karachi. He returned and ``when the plane descended there was only seven minutes of fuel left,″ the newspaper quoted his statement as saying.

On Nov. 11, police filed a complaint accusing Sharif and several others of treason and hijacking _ charges that carry either the death penalty or life in prison. Sharif also is accused of conspiracy to murder and physical endangerment, charges that carry a lesser prison term.

Sharif has been in military custody since the coup, but he was not seen in public until Friday. When he arrived at the Karachi court that day, he was surrounded by dozens of well-armed paramilitary rangers who elbowed and shoved scores of people trying to reach him.

Friday’s court proceedings didn’t directly address guilt or innocence and Sharif did not have to enter a plea, said Sayed Nihal Hashmi, a lawyer for a codefendant who was in court. The special anti-terrorist court ordered Sharif held in police custody until formal charges are filed on Nov. 26.

The other defendants in the case include Sharif’s former adviser on Sindh provincial affairs, the former chairman of Pakistan’s national air carrier, the director general of the Civil Aviation Authority and a former police inspector.