updated 3/1/2008 4:30:53 PM ET 2008-03-01T21:30:53

A Pakistani court on Saturday acquitted the brother of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a murder case after the families of the dead suddenly withdrew their accusations, lawyers said.

The surprising turnaround came after the former premier's party ended up second in the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections. It is expected to form a ruling coalition with slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party. It is also expected to form the government in the eastern province of Punjab after winning provincial assembly elections.

Shahbaz Sharif was the chief minister, or top elected official, of Punjab when five men were killed in what their families said were fake shootouts with the police in 1998.

The families on Saturday told the court they did not want Shahbaz Sharif to be tried, said the plaintiffs' lawyer, Aftab Bajwa. He would not give a reason why and the relatives also refused to explain.

Bajwa said Sharif was acquitted by court, which means he cannot be tried again. Sharif's attorney Imtiaz Kaifi and a court official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media also confirmed the decision.

Shahbaz Sharif got involved in the murder case in 2001 when the father of two of the victims petitioned the Lahore High Court to have him named as a defendant for allegedly abetting the murders.

The court accepted the petition, and Sharif had been on trial in absentia in an anti-terrorism court since 2001.

He has denied the allegations and spent much of the years since 2000 in exile before returning to Pakistan in November along with his fellow exile and brother Nawaz.

The police had acknowledged killing the five men, but claimed they were suspected robbers who were shot while trying to flee.

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