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Ex-PM Imran Khan Starts 'Long March' On Pakistan's Capital To Demand Early Elections

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan: "This is not for politics or personal gain, or to topple the government.... This is to bring genuine freedom to the country." (file photo)

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan on October 28 launched a so-called "long march" on Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, to pressure the government into calling early elections.

Khan, a former international cricket star, was ousted in April in a no-confidence vote after defections by some of his coalition partners, but he retains mass public support in the South Asian country.

Khan gathered hundreds of supporters in the eastern city of Lahore to join the caravan of cars and trucks heading for the capital.

After being removed, Khan has held rallies across Pakistan, stirring opposition against the coalition government of his successor, Shehbaz Sharif.

Thousands of people are expected to join his convoy that will travel around 380 kilometers from Lahore to Islamabad over the next week, stopping along the way to hold rallies and gather more protesters.

The growing crowd of Khan supporters in Lahore chanted slogans including, “Imran Tere Jannisar, Beshumar, Beshumar," meaning, "Imran, countless people are willing to give their life for you."

Khan plans to lead the caravan up the Grand Trunk Road to Islamabad, and his Tehrik-e Insaf (PTI) party has asked authorities in the capital to allow a protest sit-in.

"I want all of you to participate. This is not for politics or personal gain, or to topple the government.... This is to bring genuine freedom to the country," Khan said in a video message on the eve of the march.

Security has already been tightened in the capital, with hundreds of shipping containers positioned at key intersections, ready to block marchers.

Clashes between Khan's supporters and police erupted during a similar protest in May.

PTI members told journalists on October 28 that the party was willing to negotiate with Sharif's coalition government if it announced a date for snap elections. The government says polls will be held as scheduled in October 2023. Khan says he is not willing to wait.

Khan lacks backing from Pakistan's powerful military, which has directly ruled the country for more than three of the 7 1/2 decades since independence.

Last week, Pakistan's electoral commission disqualified Khan from running for public office for five years on charges of unlawfully selling gifts received from heads of state during his term in power.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and