Former Prime Minister Imran Khan has warned Pakistan’s government to set new elections in the next six days or he will again march on the capital along with millions of people.
Khan spoke at a rally of thousands of demonstrators early Thursday morning in Islamabad, aiming to bring down the government and force early elections.
“I had decided that I will sit here until the government dissolves assemblies and announces elections, but of what I have seen in the past 24 hours, they (government) are taking the nation towards anarchy,” the 69-year-old was quoted as saying by Dawn news website.
The government earlier had summoned troops to guard important buildings, including the parliament and offices of the president and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif. The measures came following clashes between Khan’s supporters and police.
Khan in his address claimed that five of his supporters were killed in the violence across the country. There was no immediate comment from the government about Khan’s claim.
Earlier, Khan had vowed that he will stage a prolonged sit-in to get his demands accepted.
Khan, a former cricket star-turned-politician, was prime minister for more than three and a half years until being removed last month by a no-confidence vote in parliament.
Since then, he has held rallies across the country, saying his removal from office was the result of a United States-backed plot and collusion with Sharif. Both have denied the allegation.
Khan began his march towards Islamabad from the northwestern city of Peshawar.
Clashes initially erupted in the eastern city of Lahore, when riot police fired tear gas and pushed back hundreds of demonstrators who hurled stones as they tried to pass a roadblocked bridge near the city to board buses bound for Islamabad.
Dozens of Khan’s followers also briefly clashed with police in Islamabad, where the demonstrators set fire to bushes lining a main boulevard, sending smoke and flames rising into the sky.
Altercations were also reported elsewhere, including in Karachi, where demonstrators burned a police vehicle.
At least a dozen demonstrators and several policemen were injured.
Ahead of Wednesday’s marches, authorities used dozens of shipping containers and trucks to block major roads into Islamabad.
Khan himself travelled by helicopter to a highway some 100km (62 miles) northwest of Islamabad, where he condemned the police crackdown and urged supporters to join the rally.
The government on Wednesday responded by launching a crackdown and arresting more than 1,700 Khan supporters. The measures were announced after a policeman was killed on Tuesday during a raid on the home of a notable Khan supporter in Lahore.
The government headed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had pledged to stop the protesters from entering the capital, calling the rally an attempt to “divide the nation and promote chaos”.
“Politics of dharna [sit-in] is detrimental to progress and stability,” Sharif tweeted on Wednesday, slamming Khan’s protest rally.
In a separate development on Wednesday, days-long talks between Islamabad and the International Monetary Fund concluded in Qatar without Pakistan securing a revival of a $6bn bailout package from the global lender.
After the talks, the IMF urged Pakistan to remove subsidies on fuel and energy. The subsidies were approved by Khan’s government in February, forcing the IMF at the time to withhold a crucial tranche of about $1bn.