Pak protesters descend on capital, ask PM to resign

Pakistani cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman (AP/PTI)

Pakistan's Opposition leaders on Friday launched a determined bid to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan, saying the time has come to get rid of his "fake" government that came into power through "blatant rigging" in the 2018 general elections.

The much-hyped 'Azadi March' led by influential right-wing Pakistani cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman's Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) reached its final destination Islamabad on Thursday after it set off from the Sindh province and left Lahore on Wednesday.

Along with Fazl, leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People's Party (PPP), and Awami National Party (ANP) participated in the march held to topple Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government led by Prime Minister Khan.

"The time has come to get rid of this fake government. "We will not let Imran Khan Niazi go free until Pakistan gets rid of [the prime minister]," said PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif while addressing the huge gathering attended by tens of thousands of people here.

"You started this container politics, you said you will burn down the Parliament, you said something about me. I will not respond to you in your language. Despite such blatant rigging, for the benefit of the nation, we said we are ready for a charter of the economy. He rejected our offer with extreme pride and arrogance," he said as he delivered a fiery address at the joint opposition rally.

The joint opposition can stabilise the country's economy within six months if given a chance, Sharif said, adding that he has never seen a worse state of affairs in the country's 72-year history.

"If given a chance, we along with the joint opposition will fix Pakistan's economy within six months, [otherwise] you can rename me as 'Imran Niazi'," he was quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.

ANP leader Mian Iftikhar Hussain said the opposition parties will not rest until the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government has been "sent home".

He said the first and foremost demand of the 'Azadi March' protesters was the resignation of Prime Minister Khan.

"Our election has been stolen," he said, referring to the Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government coming into power.

According to security institutions, thousands of people are taking part in the march.

The crowd swelled in Islamabad, as supporters of opposition parties, including the PML-N and the PPP) joined the anti-government protest rally.

The protestors have encamped in the sprawling ground near the Peshawar Mor area where different political parties have set up their camps to house their workers.

Addressing the demonstrators at the venue, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said Imran Khan was a "puppet" and the nation is not ready to bow its head before a "selected" prime minister and "those who have selected him".

Unfazed by the protest, Prime Minister Khan, while addressing a public rally in Gilgit-Baltistan, told the protesters congregated in Islamabad that when they run out of food, more will be sent to them, but their leaders should not expect any relief from him.

"Gone are the days when one used to use Islam to gain power. This is a new Pakistan. Sit however long you want. When your food runs out, we will send more. But we will not give you an (NRO)," he said.

National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was an ordinance issued in October 2007 granting pardon to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats accused of corruption, embezzlement, money laundering, murder, and terrorism.

"Who are they wishing to gain freedom from? I want the media to go there and ask people who they wish to free themselves from," Khan said, adding that all his opponents appear disjointed in their thoughts and aims.

The prime minister said the protest rally had made Pakistan's enemy happy.

"I will put all of them into jail," he said, in an apparent reference to former premier Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shehbaz, former President Asif Ali Zardari and former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. 

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