- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 18, 2009

MIR ALI, Pakistan | Pakistan’s top court on Friday overturned opposition leader Nawaz Sharif’s conviction on hijacking charges stemming from the 1999 coup against his government, clearing the last obstacle to his running for office.

Also Friday, a suspected U.S. missile strike in a Pakistani tribal region killed at least five suspected militants, officials said.

The missile strike hit a house in Gariwam village in North Waziristan, said two intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media on the record.

Local government official Anayat Ullah also confirmed that a missile hit the village, while resident Ahmad Raza said he heard members of the Taliban in the area saying five of their comrades were dead.

Over the past year, the U.S. has launched dozens of missile strikes in Pakistan’s northwest regions bordering Afghanistan. The North and South Waziristan sections of the country’s semiautonomous tribal belt have been frequent targets because of the heavy Taliban and al Qaeda presence there.

In its decision Friday, the Supreme Court said there was no evidence to support Mr. Sharif’s conviction.

Sharif spokesman Sadiqul Farooq said it brought a close to the final criminal case against the two-time prime minister, paving the way for his return to public office. According to recent polls, Mr. Sharif is the country’s most popular politician.

“We knew that Nawaz Sharif is innocent, but today’s court order also proved that he had been wrongly convicted,” Mr. Farooq said.

Pakistan’s army ousted Mr. Sharif’s government in a bloodless coup on Oct. 12, 1999, the day Mr. Sharif removed Pervez Musharraf from his post as army chief and refused to allow the general’s plane to land at a Karachi airport while returning from a foreign trip.

After assuming power, Gen. Musharraf’s military government charged Mr. Sharif with ordering the hijacking of Gen. Musharraf’s plane. Mr. Sharif argued his actions only aimed to avert a coup that was already under way.

Friday’s ruling was the third in the past two months to lift a ban on Mr. Sharif participating in elections. Mr. Sharif has made no secret of his desire to return to public office, but has said he does not want early elections.

Also Friday, two separate bombs in northwest Pakistan damaged a pair of oil tankers headed for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Elsewhere in Pakistan’s northwest, the army proceeded with operations against militants in the Swat Valley and surrounding districts. Two soldiers were killed in a roadside bombing during the previous 24 hours, according to a military statement released Friday afternoon.

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