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Nawaz Sharif Leads Defiant Rally to Hometown In a Show of Strength

Thousands of people attended the rally and procession in support of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, and set up camps along the route he was expected to take.

Reuters

Updated:August 9, 2017, 11:13 PM IST
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Nawaz Sharif Leads Defiant Rally to Hometown In a Show of Strength
Supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif crowd around him as he leaves Punjab house in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Photo: REUTERS/Caren Firouz)
Islamabad: Thousands of people attended a rally and procession in support of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Wednesday as he embarked on a show of political power following a Supreme Court decision to disqualify him from office over undeclared assets.

Sharif launched the so-called "caravan" procession from Islamabad to his eastern hometown of Lahore, despite the concerns of advisers about security. Big crowds of supporters thronged the capital to join in the rally, and set up camps along the route he was expected to take.

"Nawaz Sharif is still our prime minister," said worker Niaz Ahmad, who wore a lion look-alike costume and chanted, "Lion, Lion!" referring to the election symbol of Sharif's political party. Backers of Sharif danced and showered his vehicle with rose petals as the procession took nine hours to reach Rawalpindi from Islamabad.

The event remained largely peaceful, though Sharif's supporters assaulted the crew of two local TV stations, which have been critical of him during the months of court proceedings, police official Hafeez Khan said.

Sharif, 67, resigned during his third stint as prime minister after the Supreme Court ruled on July 28 that he should be disqualified. The court also ordered a criminal probe into his family over allegations stemming from the "Panama Papers" leaks of international offshore companies.

Pakistan's new prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a close Sharif ally, said the former leader was alert to security threats. "The bigger a leader is, the bigger the threat is," Abbasi told domestic Geo TV. He told SAMAA TV the event was not a protest, but rather a reception for Nawaz Sharif by his supporters to mark his homecoming.

Sharif was seen off in Islamabad by Abbasi, the new cabinet and other party officials, his political adviser Asif Kirmani said. Several ministers also took part in the rally, chanting slogans, dancing, and taking selfies with supporters.

Kirmani said a huge number of people were waiting for Sharif along the Grand Trunk Road linking Islamabad with Lahore, about 380 km (237 miles) distant. "We really don't know how long it will take, how many days. We have no idea," he said.

Sharif, in recent meetings with party leaders, lawyers and the media, has expressed his displeasure over the court ruling.

He has said no corruption charges had been proved, and it was unfair to disqualify him on the grounds of not having declared a salary from his son's Dubai-based company among a list of assets submitted ahead of the 2013 elections that brought him to power.

Sharif's governing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, which has a solid majority in parliament, elected Abbasi as his replacement within four days of the court decision.

Party leaders have recently suggested that Abbasi is expected to hold office until elections due next year, a reversal of earlier indications that Sharif's younger brother, Shehbaz, would take over.

Shehbaz is now likely to replace his brother as party chief, because the ousted premier can no longer lead a political party as Pakistani law bars convicted or disqualified persons from such roles.
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