Pakistan’s Khan ‘ready to die,’ calls for more protests

Imran Khan(C), the Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, addresses supporters during the Revolution March in Islamabad August 31, 2014.

Imran Khan(C), the Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, addresses supporters during the Revolution March in Islamabad August 31, 2014.

Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan called on his supporters to take to the streets on Sunday, after at least three people were killed and 200 others wounded during clashes between protesters and police forces overnight.

Khan, an outspoken cricketer-turned-politician, told his supporters on Sunday he would not back down from his demand for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign and called on more protesters to join him.

“I am prepared to die here. I have learned that government plans a major crackdown against us tonight,” Khan said. “I am here till my last breath.”

Anti-government protesters, who had been rallying for two weeks demanding the Sharif to step down, tried to storm the premier’s residence, prompting police to fire tear gas to halt their advance.

The violent night saw the first deaths in over two weeks of demonstrations, as some protesters armed with sticks and gas masks tried to break through police lines.

Protesters were expected to rally in the streets on Sunday, but no major acts of violence were reported.

“I am prepared to die here. I have learnt that government plans a major crackdown against us tonight,” e said. “I am here till my last breath.”

Army chiefs to meet

Army chiefs were expected to meet on Sunday to discuss the crisis, which turned violent despite the army’s public intervention in the conflict.

It is speculated that the army could take decisive actions to end the crisis.

Senior hospital official Dr. Wasim Khawaja said Sunday that protester Naveed Razzaq drowned in a ditch after he was in a crowd that was bombarded with tear gas.

He was the first one to be killed from clashes.

Razzaq was a supporter of cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, who along with Khan has been leading twin protests since Aug. 14 calling on Sharif to resign, alleging massive voting fraud in the election that brought him into office last year in Pakistan’s first democratic transfer of power.

Sharif, who swept to office in the country’s first democratic transition of power last year, has firmly resisted opposition calls for him to resign while agreeing to meet their other demands such as an investigation into alleged fraud during last year’s election.

Himself ousted in a coup in 1999 during an earlier stint in office, Sharif still has a difficult relationship with the army. Even if he survives this crisis, he will remain significantly weakened and sidelined on key issues such as foreign policy and security.

 
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