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Pakistan opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif arrested ahead of polls

Pakistani opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif was arrested on Friday (October 5) in a longstanding corruption case, the country's anti-graft agency said, nine days before crucial by-elections are due to be held.

His brother, ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was sentenced earlier this year to 10 years in prison by the same agency after the Supreme Court removed him from power.

Friday’s arrest, by agents of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in Lahore, involved a case of alleged corruption in a low-cost housing scheme, called Aashyana (Shelter), when Shehbaz Sharif was chief minister of Punjab province.

Nawaz Sharif has denounced corruption cases against him and his party’s leaders as politically motivated, and both brothers deny any wrongdoing. Nawaz Sharif was released from prison last month pending an appeal against his conviction.

The former prime minister was arrested 10 days before the July 25 general election, which was won by cricket star turned politician Imran Khan, who now leads the new government.

The Sharifs’ Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz came in second place in the election. Their party, along with all other major opposition parties, denounced the polls as rigged, alleging the military and courts of tipping the scale in favour of Khan’s party.

The Sharifs’ party accused the new government of using the anti-corruption agency for political victimisation.

By-elections to fill 11 parliamentary seats and 19 provincial assembly seats are scheduled for October 14. Those seats remain empty because of court-ordered delays and the ability of leading candidates to run in several constituencies at once, but only represent one.

The by-elections could affect the slim majority Khan’s coalition government holds in parliament, though many of the constituencies are considered strongholds of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party.

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