Friday 24 November 2017

Deposed Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif defies security threat to begin rallies

Supporters of Nawaz Sharif at a rally in Islamabad (AP)
Supporters of Nawaz Sharif at a rally in Islamabad (AP)

Pakistan's deposed prime minister Nawaz Sharif has launched two days of rallies in a move aimed at demonstrating his political strength, making stops from the capital Islamabad to his home town of Lahore.

Ignoring security threats, Mr Sharif plans to spend at least two nights along Grand Trunk Road, the main road from Islamabad to Lahore, during his first public appearances since July 28, when the Supreme Court disqualified him from serving for concealing his assets.

Current prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a legislator from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League party - who replaced Mr Sharif days after his removal from office - hugged the three-time premier as he boarded a vehicle with supporters.

Asif Kirmani, a legislator from Mr Sharif's party, said vehicles carrying supporters will pass along Islamabad's key road before entering the nearby garrison city of Rawalpindi. From there the rally will continue on the main road to Lahore.

The rally comes a day after Mr Sharif said he was determined to go to his home despite Monday's truck bombing in Lahore, in which two people were killed.

Former information minister Pervaiz Rashid and leaders from Mr Sharif's party were seen in his car as he started his journey amid claims from opponents that his political career ended after his disqualification by the court.

Mr Sharif insists his removal from office does not mean the end of his future in politics. He plans to file a review petition in an effort to get his disqualification reversed.

He says he wants to start a debate in parliament and among the public to discuss why no elected prime minister has completed their full term in Pakistan, which has been ruled by army generals for more than half of its 70-year history.

Mr Sharif has a history of rocky relations with the military, but since his removal he has exercised restraint in commenting on civil-military relations.

Last month's removal of Mr Sharif briefly plunged Pakistan into political turmoil but parliament later elected Mr Abbasi as the country's new prime minister.

Mr Sharif's party initially wanted Mr Abbasi to serve as an interim premier for 45 days until Mr Sharif's younger brother Shahbaz, the chief minister of Punjab, secures a national assembly seat in a by-election.

But now Mr Sharif says his party will not replace Mr Abbasi with his brother.

Under Pakistan's laws, Mr Sharif cannot lead his party because of his disqualification and he is expected to give this position to his brother this week.

The rally comes a day after firebrand opposition cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri returned home from abroad amid pending court cases against him in Pakistan. He wants justice for eight of his supporters killed in anti-government rallies in 2014.

Mr Qadri has asked his supporters to wait for his call for holding a rally on Grand Trunk Road.

AP

Press Association

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