Thousands of anti- government protesters, encouraged by a last-minute court verdict allowing peaceful demonstrations, began their march on Thursday from Lahore to Islamabad as the fear of violence gripped Pakistan’s capital which has been turned into a fortress.
On a day the country marks its Independence Day, the two groups, led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and Canada-based cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, plan to converge on Islamabad to press Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to call an early election little over a year after his landslide victory in the polls.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Khan initiated his ‘Azadi March’ from Zaman Park, Lahore, while Qadri launched his ‘Inqelab March’ (revolution march) from the Model Town area of the city.
“Join this march not for me but for sake of your children and if you want real independence in Pakistan,” Khan said in his brief address at start of protest march.
He is protesting the alleged rigging in last year’s general election.
After some hesitation, the government also allowed the supporters of Qadri to leave Model Town area of Lahore.
“The Inqelab March is leaving Model Town for Islamabad. I want to wish the country a happy Independence Day. The revolution march will give the constitutional and democratic rights to the oppressed of this country,” Qadri said while addressing a press conference.
He also unveiled the goals of his revolution march before leaving, saying the fundamental purpose of this march is to restore democracy and alleviate poverty.
Both Khan and Qadri have given assurances that they will disperse peacefully and will not create any law and order situation. But still there are fears that any untoward incident may spiral into crisis, leaving space for powerful army to intervene.
Khan has already underlined his demands, saying Prime Minister Sharif should resign and a caretaker government should be formed for holding a fresh general election in the country.
Qadri on the other hand announced bringing about a revolution by overthrowing the Sharif-led government.