Islamabad, November 1: Thousands of Islamists rallied in Islamabad Friday as several huge marches from across Pakistan converged on the capital to demand that Prime Minister Imran Khan's government step down. Security forces blocked main entry points with shipping containers but protesters streamed into the city, sitting out in squares and open spaces as they awaited instructions from their leaders ahead of Friday prayers.
The "Azadi (Freedom) March" is being led by Khan's long-time rival Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who heads the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), one of the country’s largest Islamist parties. It represents the first major challenge to Khan's administration as it struggles to quell simmering public anger over a faltering economy and double-digit inflation. Azadi March in Pakistan: Over a Lakh to Protest Against Imran Khan Government
"We are protesting to send these incapable rulers home... our people are unemployed and factories are shutting down," protester Abu Saeed Khan who travelled to the capital from the northwestern city of Peshawar told AFP. "We have to remove them from power," added Anas Khan, another demonstrator.
Rehman is set to lead Friday prayers with the protesters followed by a series of speeches from opposition politicians. The group, however, has remained vague about what tactics they plan to use during the protest or how long they will stay in Islamabad.
The cleric insists that Khan needs to be removed from office and a new "free and fair" election held. Ahead of the march, social media users panned Rehman and his followers over their refusal to allow women to participate, while there were scattered reports female journalists were prevented from covering the demonstration.
While giving the intro a man came and started saying women arent allowed, women CANNOT be here. Leave! Slowly but in a minute’s time a crowd of men encircled us and started chanting the slogans, we had to leave," tweeted journalist Shiffa Z. Yousafzai.