The Gulf News: Cleric leads thousands towards Islamabad

Qadri calls for people to back “a historic march to bring genuine democracy”

By Mohsin Ali, CorrespondentPublished: 18:23 January 14, 2013

Sohawa/Islamabad: Leading thousands of supporters in a vehicular caravan, Tehreek Minhaj Ul Quran (TMQ) chief Dr. Tahirul Qadri arrived on Monday evening in the vicinity of Islamabad for a planned sit-in in a bid to force the government to accept their electoral reforms agenda.

Billed as a ‘long march’ by the organisers, the procession set off from Lahore on Sunday morning on the 300-kilometre journey to the national capital. The convoy swelled en route as more people joined and Qadri addressed wayside gatherings.

Qadri made impassioned appeals to people to back what he called a “historic, revolutionary march for bringing about genuine democracy and ridding the country from the stranglehold of a corrupt system”.

He is demanding an honest, non-political and competent caretaker government through consultation with the military and the judiciary; reconstitution of the Election Commission and strict implementation of the eligibility criteria for election candidates laid in Articles 62 and 63 of Pakistan’s constitution.

The TMQ leader repeatedly declared, as the convoy approached Islamabad, that the sit-in would continue until its aim was achieved.

The ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League-N, which is in power in the most populous Punjab province, said Qadri was out to force postponement of general election now only a few months away and thus derail democracy.

Amid raging war of words between march sponsors and their opponents and despite the government’s warnings about possible terrorist attack, the TMQ rally-on-wheels encountered no trouble on the way. The procession was accompanied by a crane to remove any heavy obstacles.

The Punjab government deployed police in large numbers to provide security for the marchers while there were clear indications that the federal interior ministry was unlikely to order police to stop their entry into Islamabad, apparently to avoid any violence.

Ahead of the arrival of the Qadri-led procession, thousands of supporters had gathered on Jinnah Avenue in Islamabad, as workers erected a platform for the expected address by the TMQ supremo.

Despite being maligned by opponents over his dual Canadian-Pakistan nationality and accused of being the puppet of some “secret hands”, Qadri’s agenda has been morally supported by the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf of Imran Khan and two ruling party allies — Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Q faction of the Pakistan Muslims.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik, speaking to media after an aerial view of the TMQ march, said not more than 25,000 were in the procession, while TMQ boasted the number was in the hundreds of thousands.

Malik said the TMQ should realise his mistake and “accept” that his campaign was doomed to fail.

According to Islamabad administration, an understanding has been reached with TMQ under which the marchers will remain within the mutually decided area.

The sensitive ‘red zone’ where the parliament, the presidency and other key government buildings are located has already been sealed by thousands of police with barbed wire fences and containers blocking the roads.

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