ISLAMABAD - Pakistan authorities locked down parts of Lahore Friday for the return from London of former premier Nawaz Sharif , who faces possible arrest and a 10-year prison sentence ahead of already tense elections his party insists are being rigged.
Sharif's arrival was set for a day marked by a spike in violence, with two attacks on two campaign rallies in separate parts of the country killing nearly 40 people and raising fears for security days ahead of the July 25 polls.
Sharif was sentenced in absentia last week to 10 years in prison by a corruption court over the purchase of high-end properties in London, dealing a serious blow to his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party's bid weeks ahead of the vote.
He has claimed he is being targeted by the military.
"I know that... I will be directly taken to jail," he said in a video released by his party Friday.
"I want to tell Pakistanis I have been doing this for you... Walk with me, join hands with me and change the destination of the country."
Pakistani reporters travelling with Sharif said later Friday that he had boarded a flight in Abu Dhabi for his last leg to Lahore.
An estimated 8,000 supporters have gathered there for a rally led by his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who now heads the PML-N. Shahbaz has said they will remain peaceful.
Roughly the same number of police are expected to be deployed, police officials told AFP earlier, while some containers were set up blocking roads, and travel to and from the airport was reportedly restricted.
On Thursday Shahbaz said that hundreds of the party's workers and supporters had been arrested in what he described as "naked" pre-poll rigging.
Despite the crackdown, PML-N backers continued to flock to Lahore earlier Friday, vowing to confront authorities if challenged.
"We are going to airport and if anybody stops us then we are ready to go to jail," Khurram Ehsan, 36, told AFP.
"We can go beyond our limits for our leader." - APP/AFP