Musharraf going to Saudi, Sharif denies plan to meet

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 19 (Reuters) Exiled Pakistani opposition leader Nawaz Sharif said today he would not meet President Pervez Musharraf, the army general who deposed him eight years ago, when Musharraf visits Saudi Arabia this week.

''No, no, no,'' Sharif told Reuters by telephone from Saudi Arabia when asked if he would meet or have any contact with Musharraf, who is due to begin a two-day visit to the Kingdom tomorrow.

The Pakistani opposition is calling for Musharraf to roll back emergency rule invoked on November 3, restore the constitution, reinstate judges ousted from the Supreme Court, lift curbs on the media and release thousands of detained lawyers and political and rights activists.

The Pakistan Foreign Ministry said Musharraf would hold talks with King Abdullah in the capital Riyadh and perform a minor haj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca, Islam's holiest city which is near the port city of Jeddah where Sharif lives.

Leaks of Musharraf's visit ignited speculation he would visit his old foe.

The News, a leading daily, today said there were ''credible reports'' that Musharraf would meet Sharif, whose return from exile was blocked in September.

''What am I supposed to talk to him about? He would have to accept all the opposition's demands first,'' Sharif said.

''Once he does all that I, the opposition that is, can sit across a table from him, but the opposition has to decide.'' Sharif told Reuters he had rebuffed several approaches to set up a meeting with Musharraf in Saudi Arabia in the past 2 months.

Sharif has remained in Jeddah since he was put on a flight to Saudi Arabia in September after Pakistani authorities blocked his attempted return from exile.

Unlike Pakistan's other main opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, Sharif has steadfastedly refused to have any negotiations with Musharraf.

Saudi unhappiness at being asked to keep Sharif in exile was heightened by Musharraf's readiness to allow Bhutto to return to Pakistan last month without fear of prosecution in old corruption cases, according to diplomats and Pakistani officials.

Musharraf has become increasingly isolated since he declared emergency rule.

Bhutto has broken off talks with him, as she fears, like Sharif, that there is no chance of a fair election under emergency rule.

''It's impossible to conduct a campaign. The circumstances are not conducive to any campaigning for the election. People are behind bars and not allowed to hold rallies,'' Sharif said.

Musharraf has said an election will be held in early January.

REUTERS SYU KN2013

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