Islamabad: A Pakistani Islamist leader who led thousands of supporters into the capital and demanded Imran Khan’s resignation vowed to continue his protest Monday, after the prime minister ignored his 48-hour deadline.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a firebrand cleric who heads one of the country’s largest Islamist parties, has accused Khan of taking power last year with the help of the military, which has ruled Pakistan for roughly half its history.
Khan and the military have denied the accusations, which have swirled since the July 2018 election.
But Rehman, a long-time rival of Khan, launched days of protest culminating in his arrival in Islamabad late Thursday at the head of tens of thousands of supporters, all calling for Khan to resign.
On Friday, he announced he was giving the government 48 hours to step down.
The leaders of Pakistan’s two largest opposition parties both also addressed the protesters, echoing many of Rehman’s claims.
But the deadline came and went, with the government remaining intact.
Though Rehman’s supporters remained enthusiastic, the other opposition parties did not mobilise their supporters in large numbers, and their leaders left Islamabad even as Rehman remained.
Late Monday, he promised to continue, saying that he continued to hold talks with the government and the protest would only be called off when all the opposition parties agreed.
“These rulers will have to go — the rights of the masses will have to be accepted,” he said.
It was not clear how much longer Rehman intended to keep his supporters in Islamabad, where they have been camping at a designated protest site.
Khan had previously dismissed the protest as “blackmail”. But authorities in Islamabad had taken it seriously, deploying security forces and blocking roads to the diplomatic area of the capital.
Similar protests have been held in the past, including one in 2014 by Khan, then an opposition leader, which lasted for several months.
Some protests have stirred unrest and violence, as well as causing hours of traffic gridlock.
Rehman had chosen his moment carefully, hoping to tap in to simmering anger in Pakistan over the deteriorating economy.
However the lack of substance behind his claims led several observers to suggest the demonstration was motivated by his ego amid fears he was losing relevance after his party, long a force in Pakistani politics, was sidelined in the election which brought Khan to power.