Ex-PM Khan begins ‘long march’ for early elections in Pakistan

Ex-PM Khan begins ‘long march’ for early elections in Pakistan


Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday launched a so-called “long march” into the capital Islamabad to call for snap elections and to put pressure on a government already mired in crisis.

The former international cricket star was ousted from office by a no-confidence vote in April after some of his coalition partners defected, but he retains broad public support in the South Asian country.

Thousands of people are expected to join a convoy that will travel some 380 kilometers (240 miles) from Lahore to Islamabad over the next week, stopping along the way to hold rallies and rally more protesters.

“We must rid the country of looters and thieves who are taking the country’s money for their own interests,” said Muhammad Mazhar, 36, who arrived in Lahore on Friday to attend.

“We have to save the country and change this system, so I support Imran Khan.”

Security in the capital has already been tightened, with hundreds of shipping containers at key crossings ready to block protesters should they attempt to storm the government enclave.

A similar protest in May saw clashes between Khan’s supporters and police.

– Military Influence –

The march comes as the country’s ruling coalition government struggles to revive a faltering economy and deal with the aftermath of devastating floods that have submerged a third of the country — and a repair bill of at least $30 billion.

Khan was elected to power in 2018 on an anti-corruption platform by an electorate weary of dynastic politics, but his mishandling of the economy – and confrontation with a military accused of helping his rise – sealed his fate.

He has repeatedly chided the establishment for trying to sideline him and has dodged multiple legal challenges since his ouster.

On Thursday, the head of the country’s main intelligence agency and chief of military public relations held an unprecedented press conference in which they defended the institutions against Khan’s accusations of meddling in politics.

Pakistan has been ruled by the military for much of its 75-year history, and criticism of the security apparatus has long been seen as a red line.

“I’m not afraid of anything, including being arrested,” Khan said in a video message released Thursday night.

“People just want an establishment role…free and fair elections as that’s the only way out”.

The establishment came under further scrutiny this week after the killing of journalist Arshad Sharif by police in Kenya, where he fled to avoid charges of sedition.

Kenyan officials say Sharif’s death was a case of mistaken identity, but it has sparked speculation of a targeted killing and the Pakistani government has ordered an official inquiry.

The funeral of Sharif – a harsh critic of Pakistan’s military apparatus – was attended by tens of thousands of Khan supporters who chanted “Arshad, your blood will bring revolution”.

Khan has held a number of well-attended rallies to show his popularity and earlier this month he won five out of six by-elections.

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