Tens of thousands of Islamists rallied alongside opposition supporters in Pakistan’s capital yesterday, as the firebrand cleric leading the protests called on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government to step down within 48 hours.
The so-called “Freedom March” is being led by Khan’s long-time rival Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who heads one of the country’s largest Islamist parties, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F).
As the first day of demonstrations stretched into the night Rehman focused his ire on the country’s powerful military, which he and other opposition figures have accused of helping the former cricket star win last year’s election.
Protesters waved black-and-white striped JUI-F flags and chanted slogans as a series of opposition figures and Islamist leaders spoke ahead of Rehman’s address.
“The time has arrived for us to get rid of this illegitimate government,” Shehbaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party, told protesters. Chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also addressed the rally.
The protest represents the first major challenge to Khan’s administration as it struggles to quell simmering public anger over a faltering economy and double-digit inflation.
The first day of the protest has remained peaceful so far.