ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - Tens of thousands of supporters of an opposition party rallied in the Pakistani capital Wednesday night to celebrate a court ruling that could lead to a long-demanded probe into corruption charges against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and others.
The allegations stem from leaked financial documents known as the Panama Papers. They listed Sharif's two sons and a daughter, along with hundreds of other Pakistanis, as holders of offshore bank accounts.
The opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party of Imran Khan organized the celebratory rally as part of its campaign to press Sharif to either step down or allow an independent probe to ascertain financial sources used to build billions of dollars' worth of property abroad.
Khan alleges that Sharif established the assets through tax evasion, money laundering and corruption during his previous two stints as prime minister of Pakistan in the 1990s.
The Supreme Court said Tuesday that it would form a commission to probe the allegations stemming from the Panama Papers. Judges are to reconvene Thursday for a hearing on the matter.
Khan had planned to "lock down" Islamabad by bringing hundreds of thousands of supporters to the city Wednesday to stage a sit-in until Sharif resigned or allowed a probe into his overseas wealth.
But the government ordered a pre-emptive police crackdown on Khan's supporters, detaining hundreds of them, blocking access to the capital by placing shipping containers at all entry points, and firing rubber bullets and tear gas shells to prevent protesters from coming even close to Islamabad.
The crackdown fueled political tensions Monday as Khan's supporters refused to back down, raising fears of violent clashes between police and protesters. But the court's announcement Tuesday prompted the opposition party to call off its protest and instead announce plans for a peaceful celebration of the decision.
Addressing the gathering in Islamabad, Khan again asked Sharif to resign in order to facilitate the legal process.
But the government rejected the demand and advised Khan to wait for the legal proceedings to conclude, reiterating that the prime minister had not indulged in any corrupt practices.
Sharif himself has denied wrongdoing in building the overseas assets.