Nearly one month after throwing out the civilian government, Pakistan's new military rulers today accused deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif and seven others of treason and kidnapping--charges that carry the death penalty.
A formal complaint was filed in connection with an incident Oct. 12 in which Sharif refused landing rights to a passenger plane carrying army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf, police officials said. The dispute happened as Sharif's unpopular government was being thrown out in a bloodless coup led by Musharraf.
Pursuant to Pakistani law, a complaint was lodged with the police. A police inquiry will now be launched and formal charges made.
Sharif, who has been in military custody at an undisclosed location since he was overthrown, was also accused of assembling people with the purpose to kill, and physically endangering people, both of which carry prison terms.
Among those accused in the complaint are Sharif's former adviser Ghaus Ali Shah; former director of Pakistan's national airline Shahid Haqqan Abbasi; former police inspector Rana Maqbool; and Aminuddin Chaudhry, former director general of Pakistan Civil Aviation.
In Washington, the Clinton administration urged Musharraf's government to protect the legal rights of the accused.
"We have continued to raise our concerns with Pakistani authorities about former prime minister Sharif's well-being and our concern he be accorded due process," said deputy State Department spokesman James B. Foley said.
Foley cautioned that the U.S. government did not have confirmation of the report on the accusations.
The complaint against Sharif stems from the high-altitude drama that occurred over Karachi International Airport as the army fanned out on the ground and took control. Shortly before the incident, Sharif had fired Musharraf and tried to install a junior general and close ally as the new military chief.
The Pakistan International Airlines flight returning Musharraf to Pakistan from Sri Lanka was refused landing rights.
Musharraf said in an earlier interview that the pilot circled the airport awaiting instructions as fuel was running out. The aircraft was rerouted to the southern city of Nawabshah.
While the aircraft was en route, the army gained full control of the country, including the Karachi airport, and ordered the aircraft to land. When the aircraft landed at Karachi, Musharraf said, less than 10 minutes worth of fuel remained.
Musharraf accused Sharif at the time of trying to kill him and endangering the lives of more than 200 passengers and crew on board.
CAPTION: Nawaz Sharif was toppled as Pakistan's prime minister in a military coup on Oct. 12.