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Pakistan's former prime minister Nawaz Sharif returns home after four years of exile

Pakistan's former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (R) stands beside his daughter Maryam Nawaz (L) as he waves to his supporters at a park in Lahore on October 21, 2023. (AFP)

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to the South Asian nation on Saturday, putting an end to his four years of exile in London as he seeks to win the support of voters in parliamentary elections due in January.

The former leader touched down briefly in the capital Islamabad where he signed court papers. He then flew on to his hometown, Lahore where he addressed his supporters, who gathered to welcome him.

"I am meeting you after a long time, but my love for you remains intact. You have never betrayed me and I have never betrayed you," he told the crowd.

Sharif was serving a 14-year prison sentence for corruption-- which he denied-- when he got permission to receive medical care in Britain.

His convictions remain in force, but a Pakistani federal court on Thursday granted him several days of protection in graft cases, barring authorities from arresting him until Tuesday when he is to appear in court.

Nawaz Sharif addresses his supporters gathered at a park in Lahore on October 21, 2023. (AFP)

Sharif, the former head of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), has been prime minister three times but never completed a full term. His last term ended when he was ousted in a military coup in 2017.

"I don't have any plans to take revenge against people who ousted my government," Sharif told his supporters in Lahore, adding that he would focus on fixing the economic woes that plague the country of over 240 million.

"We will reduce government expenditures, overhaul state-owned enterprises, and make Pakistan an IT power," he vowed to supporters.

The former leader's arrival back in his home country comes as the nation has been in a state of political turmoil since the ouster of another prime minister, Imran Khan, who was a former rival of Sharif. Sharif is expected to face tough competition from Khan's political party.

“Sharif’s key challenge is first to establish himself and his party as viable options to replace Imran Khan, who is already popular, and secondly to turn around the economy,” political analyst Ayesha Siddiqa told AFP.

Pakistan is currently being led by a caretaker government in the run-up to January’s election.

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