Rallies show deep support of ousted prime minister
RAWALPINDI, PAKISTAN | Pakistan’s deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif kicked off two days of rallies on Wednesday aimed at demonstrating his political strength by making stops from the capital, Islamabad, to his hometown of Lahore, ignoring security threats and drawing thousands of supporters.
Mr. Sharif planned to spend at least two nights along the Grand Trunk Road, the main road from Islamabad to Lahore, in his first public appearances since being forced to step down for concealing assets late last month.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who replaced Mr. Sharif a few days later, hugged the three-time premier as he boarded a vehicle along with his supporters. Mr. Abbasi is a lawmaker from Mr. Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League party.
Mr. Sharif’s supporters showered rose petals on his vehicle and waved national and party flags, chanting: “My Lion, your lion, Nawaz Sharif, Nawaz Sharif” — the lion was the ousted prime minister’s election symbol when he won the 2013 vote.
The event remained largely peaceful, though Mr. Sharif’s supporters assaulted the crew of two local TV stations that had been critical of him during the court proceedings, police official Hafeez Khan told Reuters.
Despite the heat and humidity, hundreds of people walked for about 1.2 miles with Mr. Sharif’s slow-moving convoy, as volunteers distributed bottles of water. Mr. Sharif’s party decorated the route with his portraits and national flags.
Hours later, Mr. 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 a bathroom.
Speaking to enthusiastic supporters at the rally after nightfall, Mr. Sharif said “this mammoth crowd in Rawalpindi is in fact the start of a revolution.”
“This is the court of the people,” he added, speaking from behind bulletproof glass and saying that it seems the entire city had come out to greet him. “The disrespect of the people’s mandate is not acceptable,” he said but added that he doesn’t seek a return to government but the “respect of the people’s vote.”
Deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif began two days of rallies Wednesday making stops from Islamabad to Lahore in his first public appearances since stepping down.