Pakistani protesters march toward parliament

Activists pressuring premier to resign

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

ISLAMABAD — Thou­sands of Paki­stani op­po­si­tion sup­port­ers, some armed with sticks and wire cut­ters, marched Tues­day to­ward a for­ti­fied zone in the cen­ter of Islam­a­bad to press their de­mands for the res­ig­na­tion of the prime min­is­ter.

The pro­test­ers, who have been camped out in the cap­i­tal since Fri­day, are led by Im­ran Khan, a for­mer cricket star, and a char­is­matic cleric named Mu­ham­mad Tahir-ul Qadri, who run sep­a­rate cam­paigns but are united in their op­po­si­tion to Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif.

The march on the city’s “red zone” — an area that con­tains the par­lia­ment, the prime min­is­ter’s of­fi­cial res­i­dence and many Western em­bas­sies — was widely seen as a fi­nal ef­fort by Mr. Khan to rally his sup­port base af­ter days of threats and po­lit­i­cal rhet­o­ric. But while Mr. Khan’s tac­tics have met with much con­dem­na­tion in the news me­dia, he has suc­ceeded in cre­at­ing a ma­jor cri­sis for Mr. Sharif, whose gov­ern­ment came to power in June 2013.

The gov­ern­ment has ap­peared rud­der­less as the cri­sis has grown in re­cent days. Mr. Sharif’s ad­min­is­tra­tion failed to en­gage Mr. Khan and Mr. Qadri in ne­go­ti­a­tions to end the stand­off, and ap­peared to be hop­ing that the pro­tests would sim­ply fade. But there was lit­tle sign of that Tues­day, as Mr. Khan and Mr. Qadri gave im­pas­sioned speeches be­fore send­ing their fol­low­ers to­ward the city’s pro­tected area, which was ringed by ship­ping con­tain­ers and thou­sands of po­lice and para­mil­i­tary of­fi­cers.

In his speech be­fore a cheer­ing crowd, Mr. Khan re­peat­edly at­tacked Mr. Sharif, whom he ac­cuses of steal­ing the 2013 elec­tion through vote rig­ging, and chal­lenged him to a “duel.” De­scrib­ing the prime min­is­ter as a thief and a cor­rupt pol­i­ti­cian, Mr. Khan vowed to turn the space out­side the par­lia­ment into “a Tahrir Square,” a ref­er­ence to the site of the 2011 up­ris­ing in Egypt. While in­struct­ing his ju­bi­lant sup­port­ers to re­main peace­ful, he re­peat­edly warned of the pos­si­bil­ity of vi­o­lence.

“Nawaz Sharif,” he told the crowd, di­rectly ad­dress­ing the prime min­is­ter. “If there is any vi­o­lence, I will not leave you.” Mo­ments later, when a he­li­cop­ter hov­ered nearby, Mr. Khan said it had come to “take away Sharif,” draw­ing a roar of ap­proval.

Po­lice of­fi­cials es­ti­mated the crowd at be­tween 40,000 and 50,000 peo­ple. As par­tic­i­pants headed to­ward the par­lia­ment, tele­vi­sion im­ages showed a crane on the street that was ap­par­ently be­ing used to re­move ship­ping con­tain­ers im­ped­ing their way.

The gov­ern­ment said 30,000 se­cu­rity forces had been de­ployed to pro­tect the red zone, which in­cludes the U.S. Em­bassy. Wit­nesses said they could not see ev­i­dence of such a large con­tin­gent, but the army said in a state­ment that it had de­ployed 700 sol­diers to pro­tect the par­lia­ment, the Supreme Court and other sen­si­tive build­ings in­side the area.

The de­ci­sion to de­ploy army troops was taken af­ter a meet­ing be­tween Mr. Sharif and the army chief, Gen. Ra­heel Sharif, who is not re­lated to the prime min­is­ter. “The army is not be­hind any­one,” said Chaud­hry Nisar Ali Khan, the Paki­stani in­te­rior min­is­ter, dur­ing a news brief­ing ear­lier in the day.

Nawaz Sharif’s of­fi­cials have pri­vately said they feared that the op­po­si­tion marches could pro­vide a pre­text for the mil­i­tary to in­ter­vene — much as it did in 1999, when Nawaz Sharif’s last stint in power came to an abrupt end with a mil­i­tary coup.

Many sus­pect that Mr. Qadri, the cleric, has at least tacit back­ing from the mil­i­tary. Mr. Qadri de­nies any such links and is openly sup­ported by the lead­ers of Barelvi and Shi­ite Islamic or­ga­ni­za­tions, which has helped to gal­va­nize his ded­i­cated sup­port­ers.

Asia - South Asia - Islamabad - Pakistan - Pakistan government - Nawaz Sharif - Ali Khan


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here