Khan to march to Parliament, army to protect 'Red Zone'

Khan to march to Parliament, army to protect 'Red Zone'

Pakistan's opposition leader Imran Khan today asked his supporters to march to the heavily- guarded 'Red Zone' here to force Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's resignation, prompting authorities to hand over the security of the sensitive area to the army as fears of violence gripped the coup-prone country.

Khan and Canada-based firebrand cleric Tahir-ul Qadri have been protesting for the last six days against alleged rigging in the 2013 elections, putting the PML-N-led government on the backfoot.

"Today InshaAllah r peaceful non-violent Azadi March will move on 2 Constitution Ave.I will lead the March myself. Defining moment 4 Pakistan," Khan tweeted.
"Our Azadi March is constitutional & democratic," the cricketer-turned-politician, who spent the night in a shipping container at the site of the sit-in, said.

The government has so far forbidden protesters from breaching the Red Zone housing key state buildings like Supreme Court of Pakistan, Parliament House, the President and the Prime Minister's residences and other important buildings including embassies of various countries.

In the 2013 polls, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) got 34 seats in the 342-member National Assembly, the third largest bloc in the legislature.

There are fears that any attempt by marchers to the Red Zone could lead to confrontation.

Security has been tightened in the area after Khan called on marchers to enter it to stage a peaceful protest in the 'fake' (National) assembly and 'fake' Prime Minister House.

More than 40,000 security personnel have been deployed to protect the sensitive areas.

Pakistan Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan said the government has decided to hand over the security of the 'Red Zone' to army to prevent protesters from entering it.
"We have decided to hand the security of Islamabad’s Red Zone to the army," he said.

Nisar said the three-layered security cordon of police, paramilitary Rangers and army will protect any breach of the 'Red Zone'.

The announcement came after Army Chief General Raheel Sharif met the Prime Minister to discuss the security of the sensitive area in the capital. They agreed to deploy army to keep peace in the 'Red Zone'.

"Don't blame me if I failed to control these people (from entering high security area). I can control them until tomorrow (Sunday) night," Khan said.

On the other hand, Qadri presented a list of 14 demands in which he demanded that the Sharif government resign and the (provincial) assemblies are dissolved "within 48 hours".
Khan is protesting against alleged rigging of last year polls while Qadri had announced to bring a revolution in the country.

The political instability comes at a time when Pakistan is waging a war against militants -- particularly in the restive tribal regions along its border with Afghanistan.
Pakistan Supreme Court had on Friday issued an order against any unconstitutional step to remove the civilian government as protests threatened to remove government which sparked fears of a possible military intervention in the coup-prone country.

The Army which has already been handed over the security of capital for three months, has a history of capturing power from democratically elected governments.
In its 67-year history, Pakistan has witnessed three coups, including one against Sharif in 1999 by the then army chief General Parvez Musharraf.

Khan and Qadri's demands invited strong criticism from PML-N government, with Information minister Pervaiz Rashid saying "They (Khan and Qadri) are giving deadline to democracy in the country and not the government."

He said both Khan and Qadri were allowed to go ahead with protests march after clear understanding to the government that they will respect the Red Zone.
Altaf Hussan, London-based chief of Mutahida Qaumi Movement, urged both leaders to give up their extreme demand and withdraw deadlines.

He also asked the government to start talks for finding a solution within the constitution of the country.

There are also reports that government was planning to shift the venue of Khan's protest which is a few hundreds meter away from the Red Zone.

The government has so far followed the policy of "let the marchers and their leaders exhaust themselves".

Sharif does not have immediate fears from them as both Khan and Qadri failed to pull expected number of people. There were continually lashed by the monsoon rains for last two day.

The backdoor consultation are continuing and certain political actors like Jammat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq are working feverously to find a middle way.
In many TV interviews, Haq urged the government to show openness in dealing with the protesters.

Dunya television reported that Sharif has called a meeting of political parties today to discuss ways to deal with the demands of both Khan and Qadri.

It is believed that resignation option is already off the table but the political leaders will offer concessions like reforming the electoral and political system to make it more representative.

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