De­posed Pak­istani PM begins 2 days of ral­lies

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Pak­istan’s de­posed prime min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif be­gan two days of ral­lies yes­ter­day aimed at demon­strat­ing his po­lit­i­cal strength, mak­ing stops from the cap­i­tal Islamabad to his home­town of La­hore, ig­nor­ing se­cu­rity threats and draw­ing thou­sands of sup­port­ers. Sharif planned to spend at least two nights along Grand Trunk Road, the main road from Islamabad to La­hore, in his first pub­lic ap­pear­ances since July 28, when the coun­try’s Supreme Court dis­qual­i­fied him from serv­ing for con­ceal­ing his as­sets.

Prime Min­is­ter Shahid Khaqan Ab­basi, who re­placed Sharif days af­ter his re­moval from of­fice, hugged the three-time pre­mier as he boarded a ve­hi­cle along with his sup­port­ers. Ab­basi is a law­maker from Sharif’s rul­ing Pak­istan Mus­lim League party. Sharif’s sup­port­ers show­ered rose petals on his ve­hi­cle and waved na­tional and rul­ing party flags, chant­ing: “My Lion, your lion, Nawaz Sharif, Nawaz Sharif.” The lion was Sharif’s elec­tion sym­bol when he won the 2013 vote.

‘Sea of peo­ple’

De­spite the heat and hu­mid­ity, hun­dreds of peo­ple walked for about 2 kilo­me­ters with Sharif’s slow-mov­ing con­voy, as vol­un­teers dis­trib­uted bot­tles of wa­ter. Sharif’s party dec­o­rated the route with his por­traits and na­tional flags. Hours later, Sharif reached the gar­ri­son city of Rawalpindi in a sports ve­hi­cle and moved to an elab­o­rately equipped con­tainer truck that was fit­ted with beds, air-con­di­tion­ing and bath­room.

In Rawalpindi, Rana Sanaullah, a provin­cial min­is­ter for law, said the “sea of peo­ple” who joined the rally proves that Sharif “can be ex­pelled from power but not from hearts.” Jamshed Ahmed Khan, a lo­cal trader, said the hot weather could not de­ter them from com­ing out to sup­port their leader. Two youths, Hamid Ali and Baz Mo­ham­mad, who came from the north­west­ern town of Sawabi to show their sol­i­dar­ity with Sharif, said they would even sac­ri­fice their life for Sharif.

Lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cer Mo­ham­mad Ramzan es­ti­mated that up to 30,000 peo­ple were ac­com­pa­ny­ing the con­voy when it headed to the nearby gar­ri­son city of Rawalpindi. Ear­lier, Asif Kir­mani, a law­maker from Sharif’s party, said ve­hi­cles car­ry­ing sup­port­ers will pass through Islamabad’s key road be­fore en­ter­ing Rawalpindi. From there the rally will con­tinue on the main road lead­ing to La­hore.

The rally comes a day af­ter Sharif said he was de­ter­mined to go to his home de­spite Mon­day’s truck bomb­ing in La­hore, in which two per­sons were killed. For­mer in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter Per­vaiz Rashid and top lead­ers from Sharif’s party were seen in his car as he started his jour­ney amid claims from op­po­nents that Sharif’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer had ended af­ter his dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion by the court.

Not the end

Sharif in­sists his re­moval from of­fice did not mean the end of his fu­ture in pol­i­tics. He plans to file a re­view pe­ti­tion in an ef­fort to get his dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion re­versed. Sharif says he wants to start a de­bate in par­lia­ment and the pub­lic to dis­cuss why no elected prime min­is­ter has com­pleted their full term in Pak­istan, which has been ruled by army gen­er­als for more than half of its 70-year his­tory.

Sharif has a his­tory of rocky re­la­tions with the mil­i­tary, but since his re­moval he has ex­er­cised re­straint in com­ment­ing on the sen­si­tive is­sue of civil-mil­i­tary re­la­tions. Last month’s re­moval of Sharif briefly plunged Pak­istan into po­lit­i­cal tur­moil but par­lia­ment later elected se­nior law­maker Ab­basi as the coun­try’s new prime min­is­ter. Sharif’s party ini­tially wanted Ab­basi to serve as an in­terim pre­mier for 45 days un­til Sharif’s younger brother, Shah­baz Sharif, the chief min­is­ter of Pun­jab, se­cures a na­tional assem­bly seat in a by-elec­tion. But now Sharif says his party won’t re­place Ab­basi with his brother. —AP

ISLAMABAD: Sup­port­ers of Pak­istan’s de­posed Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif shout slo­gans against the op­po­si­tion dur­ing a rally. —AP

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