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Pakistani police open criminal cases against 17,000 members of ex-premier's party

This handout photograph released by the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) party on July 14, 2018, shows former prime minister Nawaz Sharif (L) and his daughter Maryam Nawaz sitting on a plane after their arrival in Lahore. (Photo by AFP)

Pakistani police have opened criminal cases against nearly 17,000 members of the former ruling party of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), over breaking election rules ahead of the July 25 polls.

Police said in a statement on Monday that the latest 16,868 cases were registered in the eastern province of Punjab over the past four days.

Cases were also registered against 39 members from cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, the statement added.

Police also said 270 people had been arrested, but it did not say which political party they belonged to.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said it was concerned about the legitimacy of the election, citing "the public perception that all parties have not been given equal freedom to run their election campaigns."

The case relates to a march staged by the PML-N on July 13, when Sharif returned to Pakistan.

Police detained members of the PML-N in Lahore last week ahead of a rally by thousands of supporters welcoming home Sharif, who was arrested upon landing in the central city on Friday evening.

The crackdown on workers made harder for the party’s workers to stage rallies on Sharif’s return.

A series of clashes broke out at the main highway entry point to Lahore between pro-Sharif protesters and police who had been deployed in their thousand. Sharif's brother, Shehbaz, led around 10,000 party supporters during a march on the city center in defiance of a citywide ban on public gatherings.

Nawaz Sharif was sentenced to ten years in prison on July 6 in a corruption case linked to his family's purchase of upscale flats in London. His daughter, widely seen as his political heir, received a seven-year prison sentence.

The former prime minister has censured the court proceedings as politically-motivated and a judicial witch hunt. He has also decried the tactics ordered by the caretaker government that took over in June.

The Sharif clan and their supporters have repeatedly denied allegations of corruption, suggesting the three-time premier is the victim of a conspiracy driven by Pakistan’s powerful military establishment.

Sharif has also said the military’s intelligence wing, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, is intimidating his party’s candidates to switch loyalties ahead of the general elections.

The run-up to the elections has been marred by accusations that the military is meddling in politics and muzzling the media to help usher Khan’s PTI party into power. Khan has denied colluding with the military.

The military, which has ruled the country for almost half its history, has also denied involvement.

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