Pakistan deploys military "to protect" important facilities in Islamabad's red zone area, as ousted PM Imran Khan gathers thousands of his supporters for a major anti-government rally.
Pakistan's new government has ordered troop deployment in Islamabad to protect major government buildings and important installations after ousted PM Imran Khan arrived in the capital with a convoy of thousands of supporters.
The federal government invoked Article 245 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, authorising the deployment of "sufficient strength of troops of Pakistan Army" in the capital's red zone, the country's Interior Ministry said in order early on Thursday.
Since being removed from power through a no-confidence vote last month, the cricket star turned politician has heaped pressure on the country's fragile new coalition rulers by staging mass protests, touting a claim he was ousted from office in a "foreign conspiracy".
In a centrepiece showdown with his rivals, Khan has called for supporters of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party to convoy to Islamabad and stage a sit-in until fresh elections are announced.
"I want to remind you that we are doing jihad, not politics. This is our struggle for true freedom," Khan said in a video message.
Persuant to the law & order situation in the #Islamabad Capital Territory, the Federal Government, in exercise of powers conferred under Article 245 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of #Pakistan, authorises deployment of sufficient strength of troops of Pakistan Army. pic.twitter.com/EOdQeaxjZ0— Yusra Askari (@YusraSAskari) May 25, 2022
Khan joined the march in dramatic fashion, arriving in a helicopter that touched down on a motorway clogged with supporters outside the city of Mardan, 100 kilometres northwest of Islamabad.
His convoy of around 25,000 supporters, which started in his powerbase of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, inched along the motorway before reaching Islamabad shortly after midnight on Thursday.
The crowd coming with Imran Khan is pumped up pic.twitter.com/mWYKSP8YbP— Siasat.pk (@siasatpk) May 25, 2022
The government headed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had pledged to stop the protesters from entering the capital, calling the rally an attempt to "divide the nation and promote chaos".
But in an emergency Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday afternoon, judges granted permission for the rally on the edge of the city, though Khan said he would press on with plans to reach the centre.
Imran Khan taking his caravan of supporters to the heart of Islamabad! Pakistan politics set for confrontation of this century. pic.twitter.com/A7dsAyBmtj— Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) May 25, 2022
Police have since relaxed some routes into Islamabad, which was blockaded throughout the day with shipping containers on major entry and exit points.
"We voted for him and foreign powers threw him out of power. We won't let this injustice take place," Afzal Ali, 29, told the AFP news agency, after joining the convoy.
Thousands more have also gathered in Islamabad in anticipation of Khan's arrival.
Imran Khan’s cavalcade is near Hakla, about 15 kilometres maybe lesser from Islamabad and literally with each passing village, more and more pekple and cars join in making it bigger.— Anas Mallick (@AnasMallick) May 25, 2022