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May 12, 2013

Pakistan's Sharif declares election victory

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared victory following a historic election marred by violence Saturday, as unofficial, partial vote counts showed his party with an overwhelming lead.

If his victory is confirmed, it would be a remarkable comeback for the 63-year-old Sharif, who has twice served as the country’s premier but was toppled in a military coup in 1999. He spent years in exile before returning to the country in 2007. His party weathered a strong campaign by former cricket star Imran Khan that energized Pakistan’s young people.

Sharif expressed a desire to work with all parties to solve the country’s problems in a victory speech given to his supporters in the eastern city of Lahore as his lead in the national election became apparent based on unofficial, partial vote counts announced by local Pakistan state TV.

The results indicated Sharif’s party has an overwhelming lead, but would fall short of winning a majority of the 272 directly elected national assembly seats, meaning he would have to put together a ruling coalition.

“I appeal to all to come sit with me at the table so that this nation can get rid of this curse of power cuts, inflation and unemployment,” Sharif said.

Despite attacks against candidates, party workers and voters that killed 29 people Saturday, Pakistanis turned out in large numbers to elect the national and provincial assemblies. The high participation was a sign of Pakistanis’ desire for change after years of hardship under the outgoing government, and it offered a sharp rebuke to Taliban militants and others who have tried to derail the election with attacks that have killed more than 150 people in recent weeks.

“Our country is in big trouble,” said Mohammad Ali, a shopkeeper who voted in the eastern city of Lahore. “Our people are jobless. Our business is badly affected. We are dying every day.”

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