Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri lead tens of thousands in march on Pak Parliament
Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters armed with wire cutters and backed by cranes marched on Pakistan’s Parliament on Tuesday, removing barriers blocking them from soldiers guarding the seat of the government in Islamabad.
The protesters, wearing masks and carrying makeshift shields, hammered through barbed wire and locks connecting shipping containers that authorities put on roads to block off Islamabad’s so-called “Red Zone,” which also holds the president and prime minister’s ceremonial homes and many diplomatic posts.
Women and children also took part in the march as police officers stood by and watched, setting up a possible showdown later between hundreds of waiting soldiers and some 30,000 protesters backing opposition candidate Imran Khan and anti-government cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri.
Both men have called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down over allegations of fraud in last year’s election. Sharif has refused and ordered the soldiers out into the streets, the first military deployment in the capital since Pakistan has been under civilian leadership.
Authorities pleaded for calm ahead of the march, then later warned of possible bloodshed.
Khan, who heads Parliament’s third-largest political bloc, had announced on Monday that he and his supporters would march into Islamabad’s “Red Zone.” On Tuesday, Khan said they would make a “Tahrir Square” outside the Parliament, referring to the famed square in Egypt that saw mass protests in 2011.
Khan has said he won’t go home without Sharif’s resignation, setting up a possible violent confrontation. The standoff has raised fears of political instability. The Islamabad rallies come as Pakistan’s military is waging a major operation against local and foreign militants in the North Waziristan tribal region bordering Afghanistan. — AP