ucanews.com reporter, Islamabad
Updated: August 14, 2014 11:07 PM GMT
Opposition leader Imran Khan was shot at as he led a rally on Friday of tens of thousands of supporters in Pakistan's Punjab province to push Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign over alleged election fraud.
"I have been shot at and pelted with stones in Gujranwala district en route to Islamabad," Khan told reporters after hundreds of workers belonging to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz pelted anti-government protesters with stones. Although Khan escaped unhurt, many supporters were wounded.
"If any of my supporters is killed in the attack, I will lodge a murder case against Nawaz Sharif," he said.
"We are marching peacefully toward Islamabad with our children, women and family members. My sisters and their children are also accompanying us," he said. "Nawaz Sharif should keep his resignation ready in Islamabad."
TV footage showed supporters of the ruling party throwing stones at protesters while standing atop police vans.
In a press statement, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said he regretted the incident and appealed to his workers to show restraint.
Earlier, thousands of protesters joined Khan and populist cleric Tahir ul Qadri in Lahore as they continued their march to Islamabad to seek Sharif's resignation.
Khan and Qadri said the May 2013 election that brought the Sharif government to power was rigged and are demanding a new election.
Both Khan and Qadri had originally planned for their marches to converge on Islamabad on Thursday, Pakistan's independence day, but the slow-moving convoys now are expected to reach the city late on Friday afternoon, the AFP reported.
Khan, a former cricket star who heads the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, accuses Sharif of systematic rigging last year's general elections, which transferred power from one elected government to another for the first time in Pakistan's history.
Before kicking off his march, Khan said Sharif should realize that people won't accept the rigged election, a charge that the ruling Muslim League strongly denies.
"Mr Nawaz Sharif, we are coming to Islamabad to demand your resignation," Khan told a charged crowd of supporters in Lahore. "God willing, we will gather one million supporters in Islamabad and stay there until the prime minister steps down."
Thousands of Khan's supporters from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province have already reached Islamabad and are waiting for the main procession to arrive.
Qadri, a Canada-based Sunni cleric who runs a large network of Islamic schools, said that he intends to bring about a "green revolution".
"Unlike Imran Khan, we are not interested in fresh elections before the whole system is revamped through massive reforms. But we both agree on the ouster of the Nawaz Sharif government" he told reporters in Lahore.
AFP reported that security in Islamabad has been ramped up in recent days, with more than 20,000 police and security forces on the streets. Almost all roads into the city were blocked on Thursday with barbed wire and shipping containers, but many barriers were removed on Friday.
After days of speculation that the authorities would seek to stop marchers from entering the city, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told reporters Thursday that the protesters would be allowed to hold rallies.
Many analysts have ruled out the possibility of Sharif resigning without military intervention, but agreed that his government will have to offer a vote audit and concessions on electoral reforms to convince Khan and Qadri to call off their protests.
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