ISLAMABAD (AP) — Thousands of former premier Imran Khan’s allies are expected to resume their protest march on the country’s capital city Thursday in a bid to seek snap elections, a demand Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif rejects.
The lingering deadlock between the government and Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party has deepened political turmoil at a time when the government is also facing the big challenge of delivering tents and food to those displaced by this summer’s devastating floods ahead of the winter. Thousands are still living in open areas in the wake of the floods that killed 1,739 people and affected 33 million since mid-June.
Fawad Chaudhry, a senior leader from Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said Thursday their protest march on Islamabad is resuming from Wazirabad, a district in the eastern Punjab province where the former premier narrowly escaped an assassination attempt on Nov. 3. A gunman opened fire at a protest rally, wounding the country’s popular opposition leader in the leg and killing one of his supporters.
Thirteen other people were also hurt in the attack, which Khan blames on Prime Minister Sharif and two other government and army officials. Khan has provided no evidence to support the allegation. The government and the military denied Khan’s charge, saying the attacker was arrested shortly after the shooting and was still being questioned.
Police say the attacker acted alone and was a religious extremist.
Khan is expected to address the rallygoers via video link, according to his party, which says Khan’s deputies including Chaudhry, will lead the march.
Khan himself will lead the march when it reaches Rawalpindi, near Islamabad.
The procession, which started two weeks ago, was peaceful until the Nov. 3 attack, raising concerns about growing political instability in Pakistan amid its history of political violence and assassinations.
Khan accused Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan and army Gen. Faisal Naseer of working for the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency and orchestrating the shooting. The minister and Khan, who are not related, and Sharif’s government says Khan’s allegations were a “pack of lies.”
The government says it has already ordered a high-level probe into the attack.
Khan was ousted in April in a no-confidence vote in Parliament, but he says his removal was unlawful and a conspiracy by his political opponents orchestrated by the United States, a charge denied by both Washington and Sharif.
Khan’s protest convoy started from Lahore two weeks ago with Khan and thousands of his supporters — in trucks, cars or on foot — marching toward Islamabad for what was to be an open-ended rally until his demands were met.