ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan urged his followers Thursday to resume their protest march on the country’s capital to demand early elections - even though he is staying out of the march for now, a week after he was wounded in the leg in a gunman’s attempt on his life.
Khan spoke in a video-link to his supporters from his home in Lahore, where he has been recovering from surgery following the attack. He was wounded last Thursday when the gunman opened fire on the protest convoy he was leading, killing one of his supporters and wounding 13 people, including two lawmakers.
After the attack, Khan suspended the march, though his supporters blocked roads in urban areas across Pakistan for several days, often clashing with police. Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament in April, has refused to accept his political defeat and has since rallied his followers to protest instead.
Last week’s attack on the former prime minister raised concerns about growing political instability in Pakistan, which has a history of political violence and assassinations.
And although the shooter was arrested at the scene and police later released a purported video confession in which he says he acted alone, Khan has insisted that his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and two other government and army officials conspired to kill him. He has not provided any evidence for such claims, which have been dismissed by authorities.
Khan‘s protest march started late last month with thousands of his supporters - in trucks, cars or on foot - marching toward Islamabad for what was to be an open-ended rally until his demands were met. It was meant to challenge Sharif’s government and demand early elections. Sharif has rejected the demand, saying the vote will be held as scheduled in 2023.
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The lingering deadlock between the government and Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party has deepened the political turmoil at a time when Pakistan is struggling to deal with the aftermath of last summer’s devastating floods ahead of cold winter weather. Thousands are still living in open areas following the floods that killed 1,739 people and affected 33 million.
In his video message on Thursday, Khan claimed he had proof about the alleged conspiracy against him but failed to elaborate.
He also tried to assure his supporters that he would join them when the protest convoy reaches Rawalpindi, a city near Islamabad, later this month. But the convoy’s chances of success remain unclear without the hugely popular Khan, who has been the galvanizing force behind the march.
Earlier, Fawad Chaudhry, a senior leader from Khan’s party, said the march would resume from Wazirabad - the city where Khan was wounded.
Khan has also claimed that his removal from power was unlawful and a conspiracy by his political opponents orchestrated by the United States, a charge denied by both Washington and Sharif.
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