Imran, Qadri demand Sharif’s ouster

Two protest groups, one led by Imran Khan, and the other by activist cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, march towards Islamabad asking the government to step down

Lahore/Islamabad : Thousands of protesters, demanding the ouster of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over alleged vote rigging, on Thursday began their march to the capital from Lahore, deepening fears of political instability and army’s intervention in the coup-prone country.

On a day Pakistan celebrated its Independence Day, two anti-government groups, encouraged by a last-minute court verdict allowing peaceful demonstrations, set off on a 370-km journey to the country’s capital, which has been turned into a fortress, with the army guarding key government installations.

Led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and Canada-based cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, the two groups of agitators, plan to converge on Islamabad to press Sharif to call an early election little over a year after his landslide victory in the polls. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Khan initiated his ‘Azadi March’ from Zaman Park, Lahore, while Qadri launched his ‘Inqelab March’ (revolution march) from the Model Town area of the city.

Both of them, though not officially allied, are calling for the ouster of the government that they condemn as corrupt. Khan led his supporters from a modified, bulletproof shipping container. “Join this march not for me but for sake of your children and if you want real independence in Pakistan,” Khan said in his brief address at start of protest march.

Appealing to people to come out of their houses and join him in the struggle for the “creation of new Pakistan”, the PTI leader said, “To get freedom one has to fight. We will lay a new Pakistan’s foundation after reaching Islamabad.”                 Khan has already underlined his demands, saying Sharif should resign and a caretaker government should be formed for holding a fresh general election in the country.

Both marches were initially banned but late on Wednesday the government said Khan’s march could go ahead. After some hesitation, the government also allowed the supporters of Qadri to leave Model Town area of Lahore. Qadri also unveiled the goals of his ‘revolution’ march before leaving his party headquarters, saying the fundamental purpose of the march is to restore democracy and alleviate poverty.

About 5,000 Islamabad capital territory police and thousands of paramilitary soldiers were deployed in the capital, with the fear of violence gripping the city.

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