Pakistan's Ex-Premier Demands Vote 05/26 06:14
ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Pakistan's defiant former Prime Minister Imran Khan
cancelled a planned, open-ended sit-in in Islamabad on Thursday, temporarily
assuaging fears of protracted civil conflict after he led thousands on a march
toward Parliament demanding the government's resignation.
Khan's followers began converging on the capital on Wednesday, with some
10,000 reaching the city center around midnight. Khan himself entered as part
of a large convoy of cars, buses and trucks, with demonstrators waving flags
and rallying overnight. Some clashed with 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 didn't
comply, he'd return to the capital with three million supporters.
"I am giving you six days," Khan said from a sound truck parked on the
central Jinnah Avenue early Thursday, demanding the dissolution of Parliament
as well. "If you don't do it after six days, I will return," he said.
Khan, a former cricket star turned Islamist politician, was prime minister
for over three and half years until he was ousted last month by a no-confidence
vote in Parliament. Since then, he has held rallies across the country, saying
his removal from office was the result of a U.S.-organized plot. Washington has
denied the allegation, and Sharif has 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 demonstrators who
hurled stones as they tried to pass a roadblocked bridge near the city to board
buses bound for Islamabad.
Dozens of Khan's followers clashed with police in Islamabad, where the
demonstrators set fire to bushes lining a main boulevard, sending smoke and
flames rising into the sky. Altercations were also reported elsewhere,
including in Karachi, where demonstrators burned 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 partner defected ahead of a
no-confidence vote. But he blamed the United States for it, saying Washington
plotted to oust him with Sharif's help.
Khan had become unpopular in the final months of his rule because of
increasing inflation. However, he has significantly regained the lost
popularity due to his rhetorical campaign against the United States and
Although Khan has rallied across the country since his ouster, his Wednesday
march on Islamabad was his largest. He himself led thousands of supporters from
the northwestern city of Peshawar, urging his countrymen to reach Islamabad
with women and children to "liberate" Pakistan from the U.S.-imposed government.
Khan and his party had been urging crowds to march to the square in front of
Parliament, where he was to join them. He gave no reason for calling off the
sit-in. Hundreds of his supporters who reached the area clashed with police.
Authorities say Khan ended his rally after seeing a poor popular response
from the masses, which they say were only between 10,000 and 15,000.
Khan went to his home in the Islamabad suburbs after calling off the protest.