Tens of thousands of Islamists along with opposition supporters have been rallying in Pakistan's capital Islamabad to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan over the country's economic crisis.
The so-called “Freedom March” is being held as Islamabad authorities use shipping containers and riot police to block access to the "Red Zone” which is home to parliament, the Supreme Court and the Prime Minister's residence.
The rally, which kicked off as a caravan of cars and buses from the southern city of Karachi last Sunday, is led by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, head of one of the country's largest Islamist parties - the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI).
Beyond belief.— Joshua Potash 🆘 (@JoshuaPotash) November 1, 2019
An endless protest march happening right now in Pakistan.
“This is a peaceful rally and we are peaceful people, therefore we want to stay peaceful otherwise this [crowd] has the strength to go to the prime minister's office and arrest him”, Rehman pointed out.
He insisted that Imran Khan should be ousted from office within 48 hours, in a call that has already been dismissed by the Pakistani Prime Minister.
“Those who make money in the name of Islam have been exposed. I have promised to Allah I will send all those who looted the country to jail,” Khan said during a televised speech in the northern city of Gilgit. He specifically pledged to prosecute Rehman for alleged corruption.
I do not claim to be knowledgeable about the politics of Pakistan.— Joshua Potash 🆘 (@JoshuaPotash) October 30, 2019
But this protest march headed to the Capital is incredible.
And I hope the American people will take note.
Military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor, for his part, emphasised that the army believes “in the law and the constitution” and that its support is “with the democratically elected government, not with any party”.
Shehbaz Sharif, leader of the opposition Muslim League-Nawaz party, for his part, told supporters that “the time has arrived for us to get rid of this illegitimate government”.
“After one year in power, 220 million Pakistanis are screaming but the time has arrived for Imran Khan to scream,” he said, adding that under Mr Khan “there are no jobs, no business, labourers are unemployed and prices are going up.”
The opposition described the government as a body supported by the military, which the opposition claims continues to set the country’s security and foreign policy.
“We want new free and fair elections” which will be overseen by the election commission, “not the army,” Mian Iftikhar Husain, leader of the Awami National Party, underscored.
Khan won the 2018 election vowing to break Pakistan away from its legacy of corruption, also pledging to pull 100 million people out of poverty.
The economic crisis, however, prompted the government to turn to the International Monetary Fund which sent a $6bn bailout to Islamabad in July.