Opposition demonstrators stage protests in Islamabad demanding Pakistan PM’s resignation
Hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters marched out and took over the capital city of Islamabad in Pakistan on Saturday, demanding the resignation of prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
Cricket legend and leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party Imran Khan and leader of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) party cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri led pro-reform demonstrators on the two day “Freedom March” from the country’s largest business hub of Lahore through to the capital.
Amongst the number of demands the protestors called for early elections to be held as a result of alleged vote rigging during the 2013 general elections, electoral and administrative reforms to the country’s legal system which has faced rampant claims of corruption, mismanagement and poor law enforcement.
Addressing the crowd gathered at Islamabad’s Aabpara marketplace Khan said: “We have the strength to topple Nawaz Sharif’s fake mandate.”
Clashes erupted when a convoy of anti-government protesters was attacked by a crowd in the city of Gujranwala after the Friday prayers. A mob of pro-government supporters pelted demonstrators with stones. Officials from the Khan motorcade reported that shots were fired at the huge bullet proof container as it passed through the busy market street.
The protesters “panicked” after they came under attack, a BBC correspondent in Islamabad reported. Eyewitnesses said many were injured in the violence and policemen deployed failed to stop and control the clashes.
Pakistani newspaper Dawn has reported both Khan and Qadri paid “tribute to the resilience and energy” of the marchers.
Khan said: “I am going to Islamabad and I will ensure that all of us are free.”
Former cricketer also criticised the government for inciting the violence and proclaimed “his followers not to fall” into its trap.
Pakistan’s information minister believes the former head of the country’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was guiding Khan’s planned march to force elections. The allegations made by federal minister Pervaiz Rashid stoked further unease in the capital that retired spymaster lieutenant general Ahmad Shuja Pasha was acting as a “strategic advisor” to Imran Khan on ways to topple Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, two-term ruling government.
Around 30,000 soldiers have been deployed outside the president’s house, the National Assembly and other sensitive sites within Islamabad’s “red zone”.
Press agency of the People’s Republic of China Xinhua has reported, at the end of a 40-hour march Khan advised his supporters in Islamabad that they would hold a sit-in protest and would not leave until Sharif resigns.
Khan said: “I am not going to leave this place, until true freedom is achieved for the nation.”
However Khan’s supporters think that he may soften his demand calling for Sharif’s notice. Speaking on condition of anonymity to the Dawn newspaper, the party official said: “We will present a set of conditions to them and if the government is sensible, they will deliver. If they meet nine out of ten of these demands, we will accept it. If they expect us to back off by meeting say one out of ten, we will not leave.”
Today’s march comes a day after an attack on Pakistani air force base in the Quetta province that killed 11 Taliban-linked militants and injured 13 Pakistani security personnel.