Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistani opposition leaders have renewed their demands for Prime Minister Imran Khan to step down, terming his government illegitimate and incompetent, as thousands gathered at an anti-government protest in the capital Islamabad.
Addressing supporters on the second day of the protest in Islamabad on Friday, leader of the right-wing Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) party, Fazl-ur-Rehman, said a sit-in would continue for two more days.
“Today, this gathering is making it clear to the whole world that only the people have the right to rule Pakistan, no institution has any right to reign over Pakistan,” he said in an indirect reference to the country’s military, which has ruled the country for roughly half of its 72-year history and is accused by the opposition of backing Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
Earlier in the day, a defiant Khan addressed supporters in Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, saying he would not resign.
“Sit however long you want,” he said in a message to the protesters.
“When your food runs out, we will send more. But we will not give you a [deal],” Khan said, insinuating that opposition leaders were trying to pressure his government to drop corruption investigations into previous governments.
Khan’s government has led an anti-corruption drive that has seen former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi from the opposition PML-N party, former President Asif Ali Zardari from the PPP and numerous others jailed pending corruption investigations.
The opposition says the cases are politically motivated, accusing Khan of using accountability as a tool to silence dissent.
Rights groups have raised concerns regarding the fairness of the process, and a wider crackdown on dissent.
At the protest in Islamabad, PPP cochairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Asif Zardari’s son, decried widespread censorship of the press and dissent under Khan’s government, asking: “What kind of freedom is this?”
Another year, another rally
Security is strict and police sources tell us about 18 km stretch of motorway is full of people.
— Osama Bin Javaid (@osamabinjavaid) November 1, 2019
The protests, which began on Sunday with a demonstration in the southern coastal city of Karachi and which gained in strength as the protesters’ caravan travelled through the country, have been fuelled by a deepening economic crisis.
Ziauddin, 24, a student from the northern district of Dir, travelled more than 12 hours to attend the protest in the capital on Friday.
“We are badly affected by the rise in prices,” he told Al Jazeera in Islamabad. “It’s hard to find a job. Now everything is getting more expensive.”
Inflation has been steadily increasing in the South Asian country, with consumer price inflation recorded at 11.4 percent in September, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.
Economic growth, too, has been slowing, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicting 3.3 percent growth this year, slowing to 2.4 percent next year.
Khan’s PTI, which came into power in 2018, has been struggling to control widening fiscal and current account deficits, while simultaneously attempting to spur growth.
In May, the IMF finalised a $6bn bailout, to be paid out over more than three years, to help bolster foreign reserves for the struggling economy.