Pakistan's former PM Imran Khan begins march to Islamabad to demand an early election

Thousands expected to join former cricket star as he walks 380km from Lahore to the capital

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Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan on Friday launched his "long march" to the capital Islamabad to demand early elections.

Thousands are expected to join the former cricket star for the 380-kilometre march — stopping for rallies — from Lahore over the next week.

Mr Khan was removed from his role as premier in April after a no-confidence vote but remains hugely popular in the country.

"We need to rid the country of looters and thieves who are taking the country's money for their own interests," Muhammad Mazhar, 36, who arrived in Lahore on Friday for the march, told AFP.

"We need to save the country and change this system, so I am supporting Imran Khan."

Clashes between Mr Khan's supporters and police broke out during a similar protest in May.

Security has been tightened in Islamabad for the march, with hundreds of shipping containers positioned at key intersections to stop marchers from storming the government enclave.

Pakistan's ruling coalition government is under pressure as the economy suffers in the aftermath of floods that left a third of the country under water, which will cost $30 billion to put right.

Mr Khan was voted into power in 2018 on an anti-corruption platform, but his mishandling of the economy and fall-out with the military led to his downfall.

Since then, he has faced several legal challenges.

On Thursday, the head of the country's main intelligence service and chief of military public relations held a press conference to defend the institutions against Mr Khan's accusations that they were meddling in politics.

Pakistan has been ruled by the military for much of its 75-year history. Criticism of the security establishment has long been seen as a red line.

"I am not afraid of anything, including arrest," Mr Khan said in a video message released on Thursday night.

"People want just one role of the establishment ... free and fair elections as this is the only way out".

The establishment has been under further scrutiny this week after the killing of journalist Arshad Sharif by police in Kenya, where he had fled to avoid sedition charges.

Kenyan officials say Sharif's death was a case of mistaken identity, but it has spawned speculation of a targeted killing and the Pakistan government has ordered an official inquiry.

The funeral of Sharif, a strident critic of Pakistan's military establishment, was attended by tens of thousands of Khan supporters chanting "Arshad, your blood will bring revolution".

Mr Khan has held a series of well-attended rallies demonstrating his popularity. Earlier this month he contested and won five out of six by-elections.

Updated: October 28, 2022, 11:04 AM
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