Tens of thou­sands protest Pak­istan’s govern­ment

The Covington News - - WORLD -

IS­LAM­ABAD (AP) — Tens of thou­sands of pro­test­ers ral­lied Satur­day in Pak­istan’s cap­i­tal, defying the pour­ing rain to de­mand the prime min­is­ter step down in the big­gest chal­lenge yet to the coun­try’s govern­ment.

Im­ran Khan, a fa­mous crick­eter who now leads the coun­try’s third-big­gest po­lit­i­cal bloc, and a fiery anti-govern­ment cleric called for the ral­lies in Is­lam­abad, fo­cused on mak­ing Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif leave of­fice and hold­ing new elec­tions.

Sharif, who took of­fice just a year ago in the first demo­cratic trans­fer of power in a coun­try long plagued by mil­i­tary coups, has said he’ll stay in power, rais­ing fears of pos­si­ble po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity in this nu­clear power.

“I’ll sit here and Nawaz Sharif, you de­cide. You have just one op­tion — re­sign and hold re-elec­tions,” Khan told sup­port­ers gath­ered Satur­day in the lash­ing rain.

Khan said that the cur­rent lead­er­ship was un­ac­cept­able. “We do not rec­og­nize them, we have to get jus­tice, we have to get free­dom from these types of rulers,” he said.

Rana Sanaullah, a se­nior leader of Sharif’s rul­ing party, said the govern­ment was ready to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of elec­toral fraud, but ruled out Sharif could be re­moved through a rally. Sharif won a land­slide elec­tion in May 2013.

The pro­test­ers left the eastern city of La­hore on Thurs­day, vow­ing to march to the cap­i­tal and camp out there un­til their de­mands for a new govern­ment are met. De­spite the dark­ness and the lash­ing rain, the crowds swelled as they en­tered Is­lam­abad shortly be­fore late Fri­day night.

An anti-Tal­iban cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri also reached Is­lam­abad late Fri­day. He too led tens of thou­sands of his sup­port­ers to bring about what he called a “green revo­lu­tion.” A spokesman for Qadri, Shahid Mur­saleen, said the cleric would also de­liver a speech Satur­day to call for Sharif’s re­moval and im­me­di­ate ar­rest.

Se­cu­rity has been tight­ened across the cap­i­tal amid fears of un­rest in a coun­try with a long his­tory of chaotic pol­i­tics and mil­i­tary coups. Au­thor­i­ties placed ship­ping con­tain­ers into the road to block traf­fic in many ar­eas, dis­rupt­ing nor­mal life in the city.

Po­lice es­ti­mate some 60,000 peo­ple were tak­ing part in the ral­lies.

Khan late Fri­day said a po­lice of­fi­cer gave him a let­ter from the provin­cial Pun­jab govern­ment, warn­ing that the Pun­jabi Tal­iban had planned to kill him.

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