Islamabad: An influential Pakistani cleric, who is leading a demonstration against Prime Minister Imran Khan, arrived here on Friday to hold a mammoth protest rally, demanding the premier to step down.
Right-wing Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman launched the “Azadi March” along with leaders of other opposition parties on October 27 from the southern Sindh province, demanding Khan's resignation, accusing him of "rigging" the 2018 general elections.
He also accused the prime minister of mismanagement of economy, inefficiency and bad governance that has increased hardships of common people.
JUI-F activists have their breakfast before the start of 'Azadi March' in Islamabad on Nov 1, 2019.
Rehman was scheduled to arrive in Islamabad on October 31. However, it was delayed as his caravan of hundreds of vehicles made a slow progress, JUI-F leaders said.
The cleric travelled through Sukkur, Multan, Lahore and Gujranwala to reach Islamabad in the wee hours of Friday.
"The person (Prime Minister Khan) has come to power through rigging of elections. He should see the writing on the wall and resign or we will drive him out," he told his supporters on the way.
In an interview to AAJ TV, Rehman said there would be “chaos” in the country if the prime minister did not resign.
According to security institutions, thousands of people are taking part in the “Azadi March”.
The crowd further swelled in Islamabad, as supporters of opposition parties, including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People Party (PPP), joined the anti-government protest rally.
A caravan of supporters of Rehman enter Islamabad, Pakistan on Oct. 31, 2019. (AP photo)
The protestors have encamped in the sprawling ground near Peshawar Mor area where different political parties have set up their camps to house their workers.
Addressing the demonstrators at the venue, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said Imran Khan is a "puppet" and the nation is not ready to bow its head before a "selected" prime minister and "those who have selected him".
Rehman in a tweet thanked all protesters and the opposition leaders for their support.
He said the rally will now start after the Friday prayers and all senior opposition leaders would be present.
It is not clear if the protesters would disperse after rally or settle for a sit-in to force the government to accept their demands.
Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities have made elaborate security arrangements to control the sea of protesters. Main roads have been completely or partially blocked by placing shipping containers.
Barbed wires have been used as hurdles to prevent protesters if they try to move towards the Red Zone that includes key official buildings and diplomatic enclave.
Additional police and paramilitary personnel have also been deployed in Islamabad to prevent any violence. The government deployed army personnel in sensitive places in the capital.
The Islamabad local administration requisitioned 111 Brigade in the highly secured Red Zone, which houses sensitive buildings like Parliament House, Supreme Court, Foreign Office, Pakistan Television, Radio Pakistan and Diplomatic Enclave (a cluster of dozens of foreign embassies).
Interior Minister Ijaz Shah warned of a crackdown if there is any violence. "I hope they (protesters) will follow the agreement they have signed with the government to remain peaceful," he said.
Prime Minister M Khan has already denounced the protest, saying that the opposition parties were trying to blackmail him.
The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party alleged that the protest was promoted by the PML-N and the PPP to force the government to release its top leaders, currently held in jails.