Tens of thousands rally against Pakistani government

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© Reuters. Anti-government protest rally in Karachi

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By Syed Raza Hassan

KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of opposition supporters rallied on Sunday in the city of Karachi as part of a campaign to oust Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, who they accuse of being installed by the military in a rigged 2018 election.

Nine major opposition parties formed a joint platform called the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) last month to begin a nationwide agitation against the government.

“We’ve come together to protect and rescue the people of Pakistan,” said Maryam Nawaz, the daughter and political heir of the former three-time premier Nawaz Sharif.

“If this government is allowed to complete its term, that will destroy this country,” she told reporters before joining the rally.

The protest campaign comes at a time when Pakistan is facing economic crisis, with inflation touching double digits and negative growth.

“Inflation has broken back of poor citizens forcing many to beg to feed their children,” said Faqeer Baloch,63, at the Karachi rally. “It is high time that this government should go now.”

The next general election is scheduled for 2023.

The rally in Karachi followed a protest by the alliance in eastern Gujranwala city on Friday, which was the biggest demonstration against Khan since he took office.

Speaking via video link from London to the Gujranwala gathering, Sharif accused army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa of rigging the 2018 elections and orchestrating his ouster in 2017 in what he said were trumped up charges aided by judiciary.

The military, which has ruled Pakistan for half of its history since independence in 1947, denies meddling in politics or electoral wrongdoing. It has yet to respond specifically to Sharif’s accusations.

Khan came to power on an anti-graft platform and denies the army helped him win. On Saturday he defended the military and the judiciary, threatening to get tougher on the opposition parties.

But the opposition says Khan has failed the nation on all front from the economy to governance.

Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is the main opposition party, has been a long-standing critic of the military. He was sacked by the Supreme Court in 2017 on corruption charges, and left for London last November for medical treatment.

(Writing and additional reporting by Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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