ISLAMABAD (AA) – The failure of mediation efforts meant an anti-government alliance has begun a march from Pakistani city Lahore to the capital Islamabad on Thursday. The march has been timed to coincide with Pakistan’s Independence Day — a rare occurrence.
Led by the popular cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, the opposition protesters plan to occupy Islamabad and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, claiming last year’s general election was fraudulent.
The march led by Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party will ultimately be joined by supporters of Canada-based politician Tahir-ul-Qadri, who returned to Pakistan in June to force a “revolution.”
“Step forward Imran Khan, we are with you,” “down with the Sharif government,” “long live Pakistan, long live Imran Khan,” shouted a sizable crowd as it moved slowly through Lahore’s streets early on Thursday.
“We are going to make a new Pakistan today where there will be a true democracy rather than monarchy,” said Khan, in a speech to his followers.
Police had installed containers and barricades to stop the march but removed them on the orders of Lahore High Court. The court also barred marches launched in an “unconstitutional manner” but Khan and Qadri ignored the order, claiming it did not apply to them.
Elite police force units equipped with bullet-proof jackets and gas masks will escort the protesters along the 370-kilometer route. The march is likely to gather numbers as it passes the towns and cities lying between Lahore and Islamabad.
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