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Nawaz Sharif, Ousted Pakistani Leader, Leaves Capital — but Not Meekly

But Mr. Sharif was undeterred and said he was going back to his people. Hundreds of supporters gathered along the route of his convoy in Islamabad, cheering and waving party flags as the vehicles moved along at a snail’s pace.

“Look who is here: Lion! Lion!” they shouted, referring to symbol of his political party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

Party workers showered rose petals onto his black BMW sport utility vehicle. Some even kissed its hood.

“I am not a PML-N supporter, but I fully support Nawaz Sharif and his struggle for civilian supremacy,” said Arslan Shahid, 29, an accountant who was at the rally in Islamabad.

Many party supporters have accused the country’s military, which has had a turbulent relationship with Mr. Sharif, of being behind his ouster. “Nawaz Sharif is the only anti-establishment leader in the country,” Mr. Shahid said. “The rest have turned into pawns of the military establishment.”

The military has denied playing a role.

Mr. Sharif denounced the Supreme Court ruling but stopped short of criticizing the military. Without offering any details, he said his removal was the result of a conspiracy.

In recent interviews, Mr. Sharif maintained that he was not guilty of corruption. His failure to disclose his role in a Dubai-based company run by one of his two sons led the court to cite a clause of the Constitution that requires public office holders to be “honest and faithful.”

On Wednesday, it took Mr. Sharif’s convoy, consisting of at least 500 vehicles, six hours to reach neighboring Rawalpindi by evening because of the crowds, though the turnout in Rawalpindi was smaller than party leaders had expected. Mr. Sharif had not made any public speeches by early evening, choosing instead to stay in his vehicle and wave at supporters. Large numbers of people poured out on the roads and highway bridges to get a glimpse of him as he passed by.

Opponents criticized his rally, saying it showed contempt for the court’s ruling.

Mr. Sharif chose to go to Lahore by the Grand Trunk Road, which connects several cities of Punjab Province. His political party has a strong hold over almost all cities along that highway, and he was hoping for a large turnout that would help him reclaim his position as a populist leader.

Lahore is the capital of Punjab, the most populous and politically significant province. Mr. Sharif and his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif have held sway there for decades. Party workers there made elaborate arrangements for the former prime minister’s arrival. Main thoroughfares of the city were festooned with banners and posters welcoming him home.

Chaudhry Majid Asghar Warraich, a senior party worker in Lahore, said a grand reception awaited his leader. “It will be a reality check for some people,” Mr. Warraich said.

Some analysts said Mr. Sharif’s political strategy was laden with uncertainty.

“Nawaz Sharif wants to give his party members a message that he is around and he will manage the party’s affairs,” said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a prominent political analyst based in Lahore. “He also wants to put a little bit of pressure on the judiciary and the military and show to them that people are with him.”

But the confrontational approach might backfire, he warned.

“I don’t think the judiciary or the military will change their approach,” Mr. Rizvi said. “The judiciary will assert itself, and the military has its own way of doing things. The politics of confrontation will not help Nawaz, and he will have to pay an even higher price.”

Mr. Sharif’s party leaders and workers were, however, jubilant as the convoy moved slowly into the night.

Source: NYT > World

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