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Indian Villagers Pray for Sharif

October 15, 1999

JATI UMRA, India (AP) _ As prayers echoed in a northern Indian village where Pakistan’s ousted prime minister was born, village elders urged Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to try to ensure his safety.

``We are very worried about his life. We hope he is safe,″ said Arjan Singh, an 86-year-old village leader who remembers playing with ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when the Pakistani leader was a little boy.

Sharif was ousted and detained late Tuesday by Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff Pervaiz Musharraf after the prime minister sacked the army chief. Sharif’s whereabouts were unclear, although media reports in neighboring India said he had been moved to his hometown of Lahore.

Villagers assembled Thursday in the local Sikh temple, a house said to be once owned by the ousted prime minister’s father, Mohammad Sharif, and donated to the local community to build the temple.

Sharif spent his childhood in the village. His family migrated decades ago to the western part of undivided India, which later became part of the newly carved-out Muslim nation of Pakistan.

Singh said Sharif maintained a close emotional bond with the village despite his country’s deep-rooted hostilities with India over decades, and stayed a night at his residence when he visited India in 1992 during the Asian Games.

Thursday, villagers in Jati Umra, close to India’s border with Pakistan in the northern Punjab state, sat huddled in the courtyards of their houses, discussing Sharif’s detention and reading local newspaper reports of the coup.

``We appeal to Vajpayee to make efforts to see that he (Sharif) is safe,″ said Mahender Singh, 92, who was a friend of the Pakistani leader’s father.

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