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Pakistani Opposition Leader Ordered Held For 10 Days Ahead Of By-Elections

FILE: Shahbaz Sharif (R), leader of the opposition, also heads the Pakistan Muslim League, addresses a news conference in Lahore in July.

A Pakistani court has ordered that opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif be remanded in custody for 10 days after being arrested in a corruption case, meaning he will not be able to campaign for his party ahead of crucial by-elections next week.

The National Accountability Bureau said in a statement that it arrested Sharif on October 5 over corruption charges relating to a multimillion dollar housing scheme.

Sharif is accused of misusing his authority as the chief minister of Punjab Province from 2013 to 2018 by influencing authorities to award contracts for a government-run housing program for low-income citizens to a company with which he had political affiliations.

Sharif's lawyer Azam Nazir Tarar said on October 6 that the court ordered his client be remanded in custody for 10 days to be interrogated.

"They cannot arrest the leader of the opposition in this manner," Tarar said.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN) party, which Shahbaz Sharif heads, said the arrest was politically motivated and was intended to weaken the party before by-elections scheduled for October 14.

The by-elections are for 11 parliamentary seats and 19 provincial assembly seats.

Hundreds of PML-N supporters gathered outside the court, chanting pro-Sharif slogans as police and soldiers guarded the venue.

Sharif is the younger brother of former ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was disqualified from office by the Supreme Court last year over corruption allegations.

An accountability court in July sentenced the former leader and his daughter to 10-year and seven-year terms in prison, respectively, over the purchase of luxury apartments in London in the 1990s.

They have denied wrongdoing.

Nawaz Sharif was arrested 10 days before the July 25 general election, which was won by cricket star turned politician Imran Khan, who now leads the new government.

Nawaz Sharif was released from prison last month pending an appeal.

The PML-N came in second place in the election, but the party denounced the polls as rigged, alleging that the military and courts tipped the scale in favor of Khan's party, a charge the army and judiciary deny.

With reporting by Reuters and AP