December 22, 2014
Thousands protest in Pakistan demanding PM's resignation
Tens of thousands joined protests in Pakistan's capital today led by opposition figures Imran Khan and cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, demanding the "corrupt" prime minister step down.
"Nawaz Sharif should resign as soon as possible. We will keep pushing forward, even into his bedroom," said Ali Gandapur, revenue minister in the province Khan's party controls, surrounded by rifle-carrying bodyguards.
The protests have raised worries about Pakistan's stability barely a year after Sharif took power in a landslide election win that marked the first democratic transfer of power in the history of the nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people.
Sharif has been struggling to overcome daily power cuts, a sluggish economy and a Taliban insurgency. Anti-Western militant groups have been growing in strength, worrying Pakistan's allies.
Khan, a former international cricket star whose speech is still peppered with metaphors of the game, told supporters in a late-night Saturday speech: "maybe the world cup final will be played tomorrow ... people will forget Tahrir Square".
The reference to the square, site of Egypt's most violent anti-government protests, followed a warning by Khan earlier on Saturday. He said his supporters wanted to march on parliament via the "Red Zone", an enclave home to most Western embassies, and he was struggling to hold them back.
Many of the young men gathering at Khan's protest said they were eager to push against heavily fortified lines of riot police to reach parliament or the prime minister's house if Khan commanded.
Riot police wearing body armor and carrying tear gas stacked shipping containers on top of each other and covered them with oil to prevent people climbing them behind the stage where Khan was due to speak.