69 people die in electoral violence before the return of Sharif

LAHORE, Pakistan – The deadliest attack in Pakistan's turbulent election campaign killed 65 people at a rally in Southwester Baluchistan on Friday before the return to Pakistan of disgraced Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Sharif is expected to be taken by helicopter to the federal capital of Islamabad when he returns to Pakistan from London on Friday to face a 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges, anti-corruption officials said.

A The interior minister of the province said the death toll from a deadly attack near the election rally of a political candidate for a seat in the Baluchistan provincial legislature also seriously wounded candidate Siraj Raisani, said Minister Agha Umar Bungalzai. He told The Associated Press that 45 others were injured in the bombing on Friday in Mastung, a city in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.

It was the second violence related to elections in one day.

Meanwhile, Sharif's arrival in the eastern city of Lahore was delayed until 8 p.m. m. He will be accompanied by his daughter Mariam, who was sentenced to seven years in prison. The two were in London visiting Sharif's sick wife when a Pakistani court found them guilty of corruption.

Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to inform the media.

Sharif's son-in-law is currently serving his one-year prison sentence for the same charge, which arises from the purchase of luxury apartments in Britain that the court said were purchased with illegally acquired money.

Sharif is expected to appeal his conviction and seek bail.

Forward Upon his return, the police swept Lahore, arresting dozens of workers from Pakistan's Muslims League party in Sharif to avoid being greeted at the airport.

On Friday, barbed wire was placed on some roads leading to the Lahore airport and barricades were placed on the edge of the road ready to close the main boulevards in case the crowds began to gather.

In a video message sent Friday on board his plane to Pakistan, Sharif said he was returning knowing he would be taken directly to prison.

Sharif is banned from participating in politics, and his brother Shahbaz Sharif now heads his Pakistan Muslim League and is campaigning for his re-election on July 25.

In a Through a televised call to London supporters earlier this week, Sharif said he was not afraid of prison and asked people to vote for his party. He also took the opportunity to criticize again the powerful Pakistani army, which ruled the country directly or indirectly for most of its 71-year history, saying Pakistan now has a "state superior to the state."

During his tenure, Sharif criticized the participation of the military in civil affairs and his efforts in the fight against extremists.

Pakistani and international human rights groups have accused the military of trying to maintain their influence in Pakistani politics by keeping Sharif out of power. The army denied accusations that the Electoral Commission of Pakistan had requested their help to carry out the elections. The army will deploy 350,000 security personnel at polling stations throughout the country on election day.

Underlining the threat to security, it was Friday's attacks that killed 69 people in the last violence related to the elections. The first bomb that killed four people exploded in the northwest near the election rally of a high-ranking politician from an Islamist party who ran for parliament from the northwestern city of Bannu.

The blast targeted candidate Akram Khan Durrani, who escaped unharmed, and wounded 20 people, said local police chief Rashid Khan.

Durrani will be presented in the July 25 vote against the popular former legislator Imran Khan. He is a candidate of MMA, an electoral alliance of radical religious groups.

The second explosion occurred in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, which killed 65 people and seriously injured the candidate.

Another 45 people were injured in the attack in Mastung, a city in the southwestern province of Baluchistan.

No one took responsibility for the bombings, but the attacks came days after a suicide bomber sent by the Pakistani Taliban killed secular politician Haroon Ahmed Bilour and 20 others at his rally in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Former legislator Imran Khan, who hopes to become the next prime minister, condemned Friday's attack on his opponent, Durrani. In a tweet, he said there seems to be a conspiracy to sabotage the July 25 elections. But he said that the people of Pakistan will not allow anything to prevent "historic" elections


Sattar reported from Quetta, Pakistan and the writers of Associated Press Riaz Khan in Peshawar and Munir Ahmed and Kathy Gannon in Islamabad . contributed to this report.

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