Pakistan: Firebrand cleric-led drive to topple PML-N government begins

File photo of Asif Ali Zardari. Photograph:( Zee News Network )

PTI Lahore, Punjab, Pakistan Jan 17, 2018, 04.08 PM (IST)

Pakistan's firebrand cleric Tahir ul Qadri and top opposition leaders today kicked off a movement to "force the PML-N out of power both in the centre and provinces" with a sit-in on the busy Mall Road here.

Qadri, the Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief, was welcomed by a large crowd of supporters and top leaders from multiple political parties including Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan People's Party (PPP) when he arrived at the venue.

The chiefs of PTI, PPP, Jamaat-i-Islami and the PML-Q had yesterday reaffirmed their pledge to be part of the inaugural rally on the Mall Road.

PPP co-chairman Zardari, who began his speech by attacking ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, said the only danger to the country is from Jati Umra a reference to the Sharif family's residence near Lahore.

"They (PML-N) know that they can be disqualified any time, but I just think for Pakistan," Zardari said while addressing the joint opposition protest rally.

"My brothers and sisters, I thank you for coming to this protest here. We will get justice for Model Town victims, and Zainab," the former president said.

He also lashed out at military dictators taking over the country and denounced martial law administrator Zia-ul-Haq's decisions of the past.

"Dictators do not build countries, they only destroy them. The problems that we have today are Zia-ul-Haq's memorabilia," he told the gathering.

Zardari also recalled that his late wife and two-time prime minister Benazir Bhutto had spoken against dictators but never against the country.

"Today there is a bouquet of all people and we are one and we will move forward together," senior PPP leader Syed Khursheed Shah told the gathering.

The protest is being held against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government ? to seek justice for victims of the Model Town tragedy, Geo TV reported.

At least 14 people were killed and 100 others injured during an 'anti-encroachment operation' by police outside the PAT's head office in Model Town on June 17, 2014.

PTI chief Imran Khan is also likely to address the rally later this evening.

Earlier in the day, the Lahore High Court granted permission to PAT to go ahead with its anti-government sit-in, but with certain conditions including ending the sit-in by midnight.

The court also barred the media to cover the rally after midnight. It instructed the Lahore police to provide full security to the sit-in and also allowed the provincial government to take action if the sit-in gets violent.

The PAT workers earlier transported a container, hundreds of chairs, large screens to show documentaries of the Model Town incident, and a sound system to the venue.

Superintendent of Police Security Ammara Athar said the venue would have three-tier security, with more than 6,500 policemen and 1,500 wardens being assigned duties. This would be in addition to three companies of Punjab Rangers, who would be manning vulnerable points along the venue.

An upward of 40 walk-through gates would be used and six entry points were finalised, one of these for women participants, she said.