World News | Pakistan’s new PM on first trip to Saudi Arabia amid political divide

Dubai, April 29 (AP) Pakistan’s newly elected prime minister was visiting Saudi Arabia on Friday in his first foreign trip since taking office, a bid to boost economic ties with the then oil-rich kingdom. that Pakistan is grappling with huge debt, soaring inflation and a worsening energy crisis.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif landed in the holy city of Medina on Thursday, just weeks after political unrest rocked Pakistan’s fragile democracy and led to the ousting of former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

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Sharif professed enthusiasm ahead of his departure, even speaking Arabic in a video praising the ‘sister kingdom’ – a country where he spent years in exile and cultivated close ties with senior officials .

Although Sharif sought to use his maiden voyage to the cradle of Islam as a diplomatic milestone, the political divisions that have pushed Pakistan to the brink of crisis were clearly exposed during his three-day visit.

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Dozens of Khan’s supporters waved their fists and hurled insults at Sharif, harassing their political opponent as he visited one of Islam’s holiest sites – a rare scene of chaos at the Madinah shrine that has sparked public anger and condemnation in Pakistan.

Sharif’s trip was at the invitation of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry reported, to advance “economic, trade and investment ties” and create “greater opportunities for Pakistani labor in Saudi Arabia”.

The kingdom is home to some 2.7 million Pakistanis, more than any other country. Remittances from expatriate workers to Pakistan are expected to reach $32 billion this year, according to Pakistan’s central bank.

“I will have broad discussions with Saudi leaders,” Sharif tweeted, “to renew and reaffirm our bonds of brotherhood and friendship.”

Sharif is the younger brother of disgraced former prime minister Nawaz Sharif – who, like other powerful members of the family, has been dogged by corruption charges which they dismissed as politically motivated.

The kingdom is familiar territory for the Sharif political house. After a bloodless military coup ousted the elder Sharif from power in 1999, Saudi Arabia agreed to take in deposed Nawaz Sharif and his family.

A 2008 US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks reported that Shahbaz and Nawaz Sharif “enjoy excellent business and personal relations with the Saudi royal family”, adding that “Saudi money is said to have funded Sharif’s parliamentary campaign”.

Shahbaz Sharif was accompanied on his visit by a delegation of around 40 people, including officials and members of his family – a size that drew heavy criticism from supporters of the Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or Pakistan Justice Party, and Sharif strenuously assured the public he took a commercial flight at his expense.

The controversy erupted when Sharif visited the Prophet Muhammad’s Mosque in Medina, which is part of the smaller Umrah pilgrimage that can take place at any time of the year.

As Sharif’s delegation glided through the immaculate courtyard, dozens of Pakistani pilgrims to the mosque could be heard shouting “chor!” or “thief!” in full view of their newly elected Prime Minister, according to images shared widely on social media.

Saudi security agents were seen trying to hold back the pilgrims. In one video, a man could be seen pulling the hair of a Pakistani official.

The episode sparked widespread fury in Islamabad on Friday as the new government condemned the ousted prime minister and his supporters for sowing division.

“This man (Khan) wants to destroy society, this man has divided the nation and this man is misleading the youth,” Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said, calling on the Saudi government to take action against those who docked Sharif.

“These (people) should be deported, so that we can also take action against these offenders,” Sanaullah added.

Saudi authorities have not commented on the matter. The official Saudi news agency reported Sharif’s evening prayers at the mosque in Medina without further details. (AP)

(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from syndicated newsfeed, LatestLY staff may not have edited or edited the body of the content)

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