Pakistani Spring? Anti-government protests demand Imran Khan's resignation

Pakistani Spring? Anti-government protests demand Imran Khan's resignation
Organiser Fazl-ur-Rehman, head of a religious political party, has accused Imran Khan of being an incompetent and illegitimate leader who came to power in a rigged election last year.
3 min read
31 October, 2019
The march began three days ago and has passed through several cities, including Lahore. [Getty]
Thousands of protesters were due to march against Pakistan's government in the capital on Thursday, Reuters reported.

Protests against incumbent Prime Minister Imran Khan are organised by Fazl-ur-Rehman, the leader of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) – one of Pakistan's largest religious parties. Rehman has called Khan an incompetent and illegitimate Prime Minister who was installed by the military after a rigged election last year.

Several political parties and their leaders are expected to attend the march, which began three days ago in other Pakistani cities, and is due to arrive in Islamabad on Thursday.

Conflicting reports have emerged of the parties involved.

The head of the PML-N party and leader of the Opposition Ahsan Iqbal said that the march was postponed following a deadly fire on a train that killed at least 71 people, while Rehman maintained that the march will continue as planned, Pakistani news outlet Dawn reported.

[Also read: At least 71 killed as deadly fire engulfs Pakistan train]

"We have told PML-N that the jalsa [demonstration] will take place today," Rehman said. "The Azadi March caravan will spend the night in Islamabad. This is a march — a march includes jalsa [demonstration] as well as a dharna [sit in]."

There are reports of closed highways, schools and offices in Islamabad as part of the protest, and the police have reinforced checkpoints and deployed additional security measures.

Rehman has billed this protest as an Azadi, or freedom, march.

"This movement will not stop if we don't get the desired results after reaching Islamabad," Rehman told reporters in Lahore on Thursday.

"We want the prime minister's resignation, the entire assembly is fake, we want to dissolve it."

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan won last year's election on a promise to end corruption and get the country's ailing economy back on track. However inflation has increased during his tenure, and the government had to ask for a $6 billion bailout from the IMF in July.

Khan rejects accusations that he is backed by the military, which has a long history of involvement in civilian politics in Pakistan. Election authorities also reject opposition complaints about rigging in the 2018 general election.

Fazl-ur-Rehman is a veteran politician whose real influence comes from his ability to mobilise support from religious schools across the country. Critics accuse him of being among Pakistan's corrupt leaders, saying his party is staging this march as self-protection from Khan's targeting of corrupt politicians - most notably former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Pakistan's two main opposition parties have both said they would support Rehman's campaign against Khan, though have clarified they would not support any unconstitutional action.

Khan's government has said it wants to negotiate with the opposition,  vowing that no one would be allowed to paralyse life in the capital.

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