Islamabad: Imran Khan, famous cricketer-turned-politician who heads the Tehrik-e-Insaf party, the third-largest in parliament, is turning the heat on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. On Thursday, he led thousands on what was called ‘Freedom March’ demanding the resignation of Sharif. Khan alleged that Sharif’s victory in the last election was due to large scale vote rigging. The protesters set out on Thursday morning from the city of Lahore in cars, trucks and busses, while others walked or drove motorcycles as they embarked on the 300 kilometre-long journey to Islamabad. The demonstration was called to coincide with the country’s Independence Day that falls on Aug.14.
In Lahore, the convoy got off to a colorful start, with protesters dancing to the beat of the drums and singing patriotic songs. Many women had the green and white of the Pakistani national flag painted on their cheeks, along with the red and green of Khan’s party.
“A fight has to be fought for securing independence,” Khan told supporters as the rally kicked off.
Also at the march on Thursday was Tahir-ul-Qadri, a Pakistani cleric who is also a Canadian national and who commands a loyal following of thousands through his network of mosques and religious schools in Pakistan. He left Lahore with his followers and was expected to join Khan’s rally on the road or in Islamabad.
Both the cleric and Khan contend that Sharif’s government must step down and have called for new elections. Khan alleges last year’s vote was invalid due to widespread rigging by government supporters.
Speaking at an Independence Day ceremony in southwestern Pakistan, Sharif criticized the opposition rally, calling it “negative politics.”
Sharif said Khan would be better advised to “work to alleviate poverty and improve law and order” in Pakistan.