Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan unleashes the national flag during what they call a “true freedom march” to pressure the government to announce new elections in Lahore, Pakistan, on October 28, 2022. waving (REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

LAHORE: Pakistan’s former prime minister, Imran Khan, launched a so-called “long march” demanding early elections in the capital Islamabad on Friday, putting pressure on an already embattled government.

The former international cricket star was forced out of office in April after defection by some of his coalition partners, but he maintains popular support in the South Asian country .

Thousands are expected to join the convoy that travels about 380 kilometers (240 miles) from Lahore to Islamabad, stopping along the way to hold rallies and gather more protesters.

Muhammad Mazhar, 36, who arrived in Lahore on Friday to attend, said: “We need to rid the country of looters and thieves who are taking the country’s money for their own gain.
“I support Imran Khan because we need to save the country and change this system.”

Security has already been tightened in the capital, with hundreds of shipping containers stationed at key intersections, ready to thwart marchers attempting to storm government enclaves.

Supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan gather during a demonstration dubbed the “True Freedom March” to pressure the government to announce new elections in Lahore, Pakistan, October 28, 2022. increase. (REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

During a similar protest in May, clashes broke out between Khan’s supporters and police.

The march comes as the country’s ruling coalition government struggles to revive its sluggish economy and deal with the aftermath of devastating floods that have submerged a third of the country and cost at least $30 billion in repairs. is done when

Khan came to power in 2018 after being voted into power on an anti-corruption platform by voters fed up with dynastic politics, but his economy was mishandled and his ties to the military accused of helping him rise. Collapse decided his fate.

He has repeatedly accused the establishment of trying to sideline him and has dodged multiple legal challenges since being exiled.

On Thursday, the head of the country’s main intelligence agency and the head of military public affairs held an unprecedented press conference to defend the agency against Khan’s accusations that they are interfering in politics.

Pakistan has been ruled by the military for much of its 75-year history, and criticism of the security regime has long been viewed as a borderline.

“I’m not afraid of anything, including being arrested,” Khan said in a video message released Thursday night.

“People only want one role for the establishment…because free and fair elections are the only solution.”

The establishment has come under further scrutiny this week after journalist Arshad Sharif fled to avoid prosecution on sedition charges after he was killed by police in Kenya.

Kenyan officials say Sharif’s death was due to an identity error, but speculation of a targeted killing arose, prompting the Pakistani government to order an official investigation.

A fierce critic of Pakistan’s military regime, Sharif’s funeral was attended by tens of thousands of Khan supporters who chanted, “Arshad, your blood will bring about revolution.”

Khan held a series of well-attended rallies that demonstrated his popularity, winning five of six by-elections earlier this month.

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