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Pakistan diary: Round one to Sharif

Thousands of Sharif supporters rally after news comes of his release from house arrest.

Last updated: 15 Mar 2009 17:52
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Thousands of Sharif's supporters filled the streets of Lahore, as the former prime
minister defied house arrest and joined the march towards Islamabad [AFP]

They say that a week is a long time in politics.

Well, in Pakistan it would seem five hours is a long time.

At 11am local time, the lawyers' movement was floundering.

In a crackdown on key players, the government had placed men like Nawaz Sharif, former prime minister and leader of the biggest opposition party, under house arrest, said one spokesman.

Then the rumours started.

Pakistan diary


 One: Braced for trouble
 Two: Sharif is silent
 Three: Political games
 Four: City on a knife edge

I first heard it from Ahzar. Bedecked in his party colours and with a Sharif flag in one hand, he told me "Mian Sharif is coming ... you wait".

I asked him what he meant.

"We will go to the Lahore high court. Mian is in his car and there is not a policeman in Lahore who would dare stop him," he said.

I looked at him and cast a glance at the massed police.

In dark blue body armour and armed with guns, batons and tear gas canisters, they made a fearsome sight.

'Riot of song'

If there was to be a clash, Azhar would certainly come off worst.

Then in a dramatic turn of events, the gates to Sharif's house were thrown open and lorries laden with his supporters crept out into the street, as a heavily armoured jeep carrying Nawaz Sharif came into view.

The police braced themselves.

For a moment the situation was tense.

Then something extraordinary happened.

The police moved out of the way. Sharif was free to drive to the high court.

Hameedullah Khan, Al Jazeera's producer, managed to get on the Sharif convoy. He says what he saw was incredible: "The police just left their posts."

As the news of Sharif's escape from supposed house arrest broke, thousands (at least according to his party) came out onto the streets.

At the high court, where hours earlier there were violent clashes between police and protesters, the scene was now a riot of colour and song.

Every inch of the roads outside the high court had been transformed into a carnival.

Flags of every political hue, except the government's, were being waved as the Sharif convoy inched its way across the city.

Gathering support

Sharif was due to give a speech addressing the crowd, but perhaps buoyed by his supporters, he decided to mount what effectively turned into a victory rally around the streets of Lahore.

At the time of this writing, Sharif was on the road to Islamabad for what is normally a journey of four to five hours.

But Sharif will stop at every town and village on the way to gather support. It will likely take him upwards of 12 hours.

His supporters say that they have overcome. "Ding ding, round one Sharif" as one person put it.

Round two will take place outside of Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, when, and indeed if, the long marchers get there.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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