Clashes erupt at Pakistan anti-government rally

Supporters of cricketer-turned-opposition politician Imran Khan take part in the Freedom March in Gujranwala.
Supporters of cricketer-turned-opposition politician Imran Khan take part in the Freedom March in Gujranwala.

Supporters of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday clashed with thousands of anti-government protesters as they were marching on Islamabad in a bid to force the premier to step down.

The clashes erupted in the eastern city of Gujranwala, where a rally led by cricketing-turned-politician Imran Khan was on its way to the capital. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Officials from Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf political party said their convoy was fired at by Sharif's supporters, a claim that was denied by provincial police chief Mushtaq Sukhera.

Around 5,000 supporters of Khan began their march from the eastern city of Lahore on Thursday, and the slow-moving convoy, which includes various kinds of vehicles, covered around 100 kilometres in 24 hours.

Another opposition rally, led by Pakistani-Canadian cleric Tahirul Qadri, was also heading towards Islamabad.

The protests are seen a major test for a country where military coups are common.

Khan wants Sharif to step down, citing irregularities in the May 2013 election. Qadri is demanding changes to the electoral system, which he says is undemocratic.

In a televised address to the nation on Tuesday, Sharif offered to investigate the allegations of election fraud. But Khan rejected his overture.

Political commentators say the army's reaction to the protests will decide Sharif's fate.

The army has ruled Pakistan for nearly half of its history since independence from Britain in 1947.

X