Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan says he will begin a protest march with his supporters from the eastern city of Lahore to the capital on Friday to call for early elections.
Smaller protests by Khan’s supporters took place last week after Pakistan’s top election tribunal found Khan guilty of unlawfully selling gifts from foreign dignitaries and heads of state and removed him from his parliamentary seat.
“I have decided to launch the long march from Friday at 11am [06:00 GMT] from Liberty Square in Lahore to Islamabad,” Khan said at a press conference in Lahore on Tuesday. The distance between the two cities is about 380km (236 miles).
“I am marching to press the government to announce elections immediately,” he said, adding that his supporters and party members should avoid violence. “This will be the largest long march in the country’s history.”
The government has already said demonstrators will be barred from entering Islamabad and they expect to deploy about 30,000 law enforcement officers to encircle the capital for protection.
Authorities also sent hundreds of containers into Islamabad to barricade all entry points before the demonstrators arrive.
Since being removed from office in a no-confidence vote in the legislature in April, Khan has held protests across the country calling for snap elections, but the government has said they will be held as scheduled in October or November next year.
Last week’s ruling has added to the political and economic uncertainty plaguing Pakistan this year. The 70-year-old cricketer-turned-politician was accused of misusing his 2018 to 2022 premiership to buy and sell gifts in state possession that were received during visits abroad and worth more than 140 million Pakistani rupees ($635,000).
The Election Commission of Pakistan ruled that Khan would be removed from his seat in parliament but did not order a longer disqualification from public office, which under Pakistani law can be up to five years.
The political instability has fuelled economic uncertainty with international ratings agencies questioning if the current government can maintain difficult economic policies in the face of political pressure and looming elections.
In his remarks, Khan also decried the killing of prominent Pakistani journalist Arshad Sharif in Kenya by local police, saying Sharif was compelled to flee the country because his life was in danger.