Lahore/Islamabad: Thousands of protesters set off from Lahore on Thursday to march on the capital in a bid to unseat the government, which they claim was elected by fraud. Supporters of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and populist preacher Tahir-ul-Qadri massed separately in Lahore before beginning the 300-km journey to rally in Islamabad.
Both Mr Khan and Mr Qadri say the May 2013 election was rigged and want Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign and hold new polls. Mr Sharif won by a landslide. The two groups, travelling in motorised convoy to Islamabad on the anniversary of Pakistan's independence from Britain, made slow progress.
The authorities had insisted Mr Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek march would not be allowed, but relented in the afternoon.
Mr Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) political party came third in the polls, was earlier given the go-ahead for his “Azadi” (freedom) march.
Government officials have accused the march organisers of trying to derail democracy and Sharif said the marches were a distraction from pressing issues.
Sharif hawks Azadi march
Islamabad: Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, facing twin protest marches to Islamabad, said at the country’s Indep-endence Day parade: “This is the real Azadi march, taking place here, both civil and military leadership is together here and celebrating Pakistan's independence day, what can be a bigger march than this?”
- Neither march is likely to reach Islamabad before late evening or even Friday. It remains unclear whether they will be allowed into the heavily-guarded capital.
- More than 25,000 security personnel have been deployed and almost all roads into the city have been blocked with barbed wire and shipping containers.
- Tahir ul-Qadri, whose previous protest rallies have seen deadly violence, pledged a peaceful march.