News / Asia

Pakistan Opposition March Sets Out for Islamabad

Students hold a giant representation of a Pakistani flag to celebrate the 68th Independence Day at the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014.
Students hold a giant representation of a Pakistani flag to celebrate the 68th Independence Day at the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014.
VOA News

Thousands of people have gathered in Lahore, Pakistan, on national independence day for an opposition rally led by two leaders, both of whom say the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is corrupt.

Cricket champion-turned opposition leader Imran Khan and Muslim cleric Tahir ul-Qadri are heading up a motorcade and march Thursday that was set to begin in Lahore and end in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, some 375 kilometers away.

Entry points to the capital have been blocked with shipping containers, and some 25,000 security forces are guarding the streets. Internet and mobile services have been suspended in many areas.

Khan and Qadri have vowed that their supporters will camp out in Islamabad until  Sharif agrees to step down and new elections are held. Khan alleges that last year's election that brought Sharif's political party to power was rigged.

Qadri is demanding justice after a police crackdown on an anti-government rally in June in which about a dozen people died. He says authorities are targeting his supporters using anti-terrorism laws.

On Tuesday, Sharif called for a discussion of the issues, rather than political action. He has warned against what he calls "any effort to create anarchy and play with the constitution," adding the government "will not allow anyone to paralyze the state machinery or incite bloody riots."

The protest marches had been banned, but on Wednesday and Thursday both groups were granted permission to march.

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