Pakistani opposition groups have aligned themselves in a mass protest against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. They accuse him of winning in a fraudulent election and have vowed to continue rallies until he resigns.
Roughly 10,000 people took to the streets of Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad, on Saturday, calling for the prime minister’s resignation.
The allied groups were led by the anti-Taliban cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri and the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who heads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
“We want Pakistan to be a peaceful state through our democratic revolution,” the cleric told the crowd on Saturday.
The spiritual leader, who also holds Canadian citizenship, enjoys a wide following in part thanks to his religious network of mosques and schools. Since his return to Pakistan in 2013, he has been an outspoken critic of corruption and nepotism within the government.
Khan also called for more Pakistanis to join the demonstrations until the premier listened to their calls.
“I will not leave here until I have got real freedom for the country,” Khan said on Saturday.
Khan’s party took 34 seats in the May 2013 elections, making it the third-largest party in parliament.
Though the two politicians leading the dual demonstrations had hoped for a larger turnout, the rallies managed to bring business in the downtown to a standstill and prompt police to set up barricades.
Sharif won a landslide victory last year, his third term. During the 1990s, he headed the government twice before going into exile as a result of the 1999 military coup. He has refused to resign, raising fears that the military will step in if both of the protest leaders and the head of government remain inflexible.
Last year’s polls marked Pakistan’s first successful democratic transfer of power since its statehood in 1947.