Pakistan’s ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday warned his government to hold new elections or face more widespread protests after leading thousands of supporters in Islamabad in a showdown with his political rivals.
His morning speech was the culmination of a chaotic 24-hour final that saw the capital besieged and clashes broke out between police and protesters across the country.
The government tried to block the convoy from reaching the capital by closing all entry and exit points around the city, but was forced to allow protesters by an emergency Supreme Court order.
Since being ousted from power by a no-confidence vote last month, cricket star-politician Mr Khan has put pressure on the country’s fragile new coalition rulers through mass protests, claiming he was “removed from office in a foreign conspiracy”.
“I want to send a message to this imported government to declare elections within six days. Break up the rallies and call for elections in June,” he told thousands of people.
He warned that if there was no election schedule, he would return to a new rally next week and called on his supporters to disperse.
The coalition government, which has merged two of the country’s most controversial dynasties to oust Mr Khan, has repeatedly said it has no plans to run for office.
On Wednesday, thousands of supporters of Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party responded to calls from nearby cities to march on the capital.
But clashes erupted between police and protesters, who tried to remove the roadblocks on the main highway to join the convoy.
In the capital, police have repeatedly used teargas on protesters in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Karachi cities.
Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission has said it is “deeply concerned” about the law enforcement agencies’ use of force to disrupt the procession.
“The state has triggered an overwhelming response, more than a deterrent, street violence,” it tweeted.
The government, led by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, has vowed to stop protesters from entering the capital, calling the rally an attempt to “divide the nation and promote chaos”.
But as chaos spread across the country, the Supreme Court allowed the PTI to hold rallies on the outskirts of the city.
The court directed the government and PTI leaders to hold urgent talks on the political crisis and the release of supporters detained by the police.
Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Monday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck. Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Monday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck.
Mr Khan joined the procession in dramatic fashion, arriving in a helicopter that landed on a motorway stuck with supporters at his power base in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The international sports hero came to power in 2018, voted by tired voters in the dynastic politics of the country’s two main parties and enjoyed the support of the country’s powerful military.
Promising to eradicate decades of rampant corruption and superstition, he is thought to have clashed with Pakistani generals.
He was ousted by opposition parties for failing to rectify the country’s precarious economic situation, including his crippled debt, shrinking foreign exchange reserves and rising inflation.
But Mr Khan has garnered widespread support across the country, especially among the youth.
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published from a syndicated feed.)