ISLAMABAD ( Associated Press) – Pakistan’s defiant former prime minister Imran Khan on Thursday called off a planned, open-ended sit-in in Islamabad, temporarily acknowledging fears of prolonged civil strife as he called for the government’s resignation. Led thousands on a march towards the Parliament demanding the demand.
Khan’s followers began gathering in the capital on Wednesday, with some 10,000 people arriving in the city center around midnight. Khan himself entered as part of a large convoy of cars, buses and trucks, with protesters waving flags and rallying throughout the night. Some clashed with the police outside Parliament.
Khan gave Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif – who replaced him in April – less than a week to call for new elections, warning that if his government did not comply, he would be in the capital with 3 million supporters. Will return.
“I am giving you six days’ time,” Khan demanded the dissolution of Parliament from a sound truck parked on Central Jinnah Avenue in the early hours of Thursday. “If you don’t do it after six days, I’ll come back,” he said.
Khan, a former cricket star-turned-Islamist politician, was prime minister for more than three-and-a-half years until he was ousted by a no-confidence vote in parliament last month. Since then, he has held rallies across the country, saying that his removal from office was the result of a conspiracy organized by the US. Washington has denied the allegations, and Sharif called Khan’s claim “a pack of lies”.
On Wednesday, clashes erupted in the eastern city of Lahore, when riot police fired tear gas and pushed back hundreds of pro-Khan protesters who tried to cross a road bridge near the city to board buses bound for Islamabad.
Dozens of Khan’s followers clashed with police in Islamabad, where protesters torched bushes along the main road, sending smoke and flames into the sky. Clashes were also reported in other places, including Karachi, where protesters torched a police vehicle.
The government says it has arrested more than 1,700 Khan supporters in the past 48 hours.
Khan lost his grip on power in April when some members of his Tehreek-e-Insaf party and a key coalition ally were defeated ahead of a no-confidence vote. But he blamed the US for this and said that Washington conspired to remove him with the help of Sharif.
Khan had become unpopular during the last months of his rule due to rising inflation. However, he has largely recovered the popularity he lost due to his rhetorical campaign against the United States and Sharif’s government.
Although Khan has held rallies across the country since his expulsion, his Wednesday march on Islamabad was his biggest ever. He himself led thousands of supporters to the northwestern city of Peshawar, urging his countrymen with women and children to reach Islamabad to “liberate” Pakistan from the US-imposed government.
Khan and his party were urging the crowd to march to the square in front of Parliament, where he was to join them. He did not give any reason for calling off the strike. Hundreds of his supporters who reached the spot clashed with the police.
Officials say Khan ended his rally after seeing poor popular response from the public, which they say was only between 10,000 and 15,000.
After ending his dharna, Khan went to his residence in the suburb of Islamabad.