Rain disrupts Khan election rally

Heavy wind and rain forced an early halt to what Pakistani cricket legend Imran Khan had intended as a landmark campaign rally to launch his bid to become the next prime minister in the May 11 elections.

By (AFP)

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Published: Sun 24 Mar 2013, 12:44 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 4:12 PM

Tens of thousands of people poured into the venue at Pakistan’s independence monument in Lahore expecting to hear Khan’s manifesto, but police said the numbers fell short of an estimated 100,000 who attended a similar gathering 17 months ago.

The crowd was enthusiastic, waving the red and green flags of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) or Movement for Justice party, and was dominated by young people, his core support base, wearing “Imran Khan” and “Revolution” T-shirts.

Khan pledged in his speech to always be honest, wage a “jihad” or holy war against oppression and side with the oppressed, including women and non-Muslim minorities, if he came to power.

“I will establish supremacy of law, I will not have property or bank accounts abroad,” he said, alluding to accusations of corruption against politicians in Pakistan. An investigation showed last year that two thirds of lawmakers do not file tax returns.

“It is my promise to you that I will not misuse power or indulge in nepotism and I will protect Pakistani taxpayers’ money,” he said.

But heavy rain accompanied by strong winds forced Khan to cut short his speech, with the public address system failing before he could unveil his party’s manifesto.

“People left and the meeting is over,” senior police officer Rai Tahir told AFP.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a former foreign minister who defected to PTI, told AFP the manifesto would be formally announced at a press conference “over the next few days”.

Police officer Tahir said around 70,000 people attended the rally. They included office bearers elected in recent party elections across the country.

Commentators had said turnout at the rally would be a key test for Khan’s chances of success, believing anything short of 100,000 would be a disappointment.

“Imran Khan put up a good show,” analyst Najam Sethi told Geo television, adding it was a sizeable crowd but not as large as Khan had promised.

“He has entered the quarter finals. But he will have to struggle hard to bowl out (main opposition leader) Nawaz Sharif who is heading towards his century,” Sethi said.

Khan became an icon for captaining Pakistan’s cricket team to its only World Cup win in 1992 and setting up a cancer hospital that provides world-class care, free of charge to the poor.

He chose the venue of Saturday’s rally for being the site where Indian Muslims in 1940 made their first official demand for a separate homeland, with a nod to the timing — the 73rd anniversary — to kickstart his campaign.

“We are fed up with the old faces. They are the symbol of the status quo. We want to bring new faces and Imran Khan should come to power now,” said one young man from Gujrat in Punjab province.

The young and the urban middle-class have been particularly drawn to Khan’s determination to stamp out corruption, which is endemic in public life, tackle poverty and unemployment, and end the country’s appalling power crisis.

They see PTI, founded in 1996, as a fresh alternative to the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party and Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N, which have dominated civilian governments for decades.

But critics say Khan is short on detail and warn that his chances of winning his first ever election campaign are practically nil.

In the last year Khan’s stock has dipped markedly in opinion polls and analysts say at best he can become a post-election kingmaker in any future coalition.

Liberals are terrified by his reluctance to criticise the Taliban and his rhetoric against US drone strikes targeting Al-Qaeda.

Authorities beefed up security for the rally and diverted traffic. They also shut mobile phone networks at the venue and immediate surrounding area as a precaution to guard against bombs, some of which are detonated by telephones.

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