Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan will address thousands of supporters on Saturday in his first public appearance since he was shot dead earlier this month in an assassination attempt he blamed on his successor .
The shooting was the latest twist in months of political turmoil that began in April when Khan was ousted by a vote of no confidence in parliament.
Saturday’s rally is the culmination of a so-called ‘long march’ by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party to pressure the government to call a snap election before the expiry of the mandate of Parliament in October next year.
“My life is in danger, and despite my injury, I am going to Rawalpindi for the nation,” PTI quoted Khan as saying in a morning tweet.
“My nation will come to Rawalpindi for me.”
Read also | Imran Khan to speak at protest march in Rawalpindi despite death threats
A video was circulating on Saturday showing aides posing with a now-removed blue cast that Khan wore on his right leg after the shooting.
The rally takes place in Rawalpindi, a garrison town neighboring the capital Islamabad and home to the headquarters of the country’s mighty military.
Saghir Ahmed was among thousands who arrived in the long preparation for Khan’s speech as a crane lowered bulletproof glass panels around a lectern onto a stage draped in banners depicting a clenched fist breaking the chains .
The 32-year-old tailor, who closed his shop to attend, said Pakistan’s dire economic situation – with runaway inflation and a tumbling rupee – has made life “unbearable”.
“We hope Khan will introduce reforms and the situation will improve,” he told AFP.
Khan is attracting sectarian devotion from supporters, but on Saturday the septuagenarian will deliver his speech hundreds of meters (yards) from most of the crowd for security reasons.
In the November 3 assassination attempt, a gunman opened fire at close range as Khan’s open-top container truck drove through a crowded street.
Buildings overlooking the site of Saturday’s rally were searched overnight, a police official told AFP, as snipers perched on rooftops watching the mostly male supporters wearing protective clothing. red and green streamers.
Authorities have thrown a ring of steel around Islamabad to prevent Khan supporters from marching on government buildings, with thousands of security personnel deployed and roads blocked by shipping containers.
The Khan-led protests in May turned into 24 hours of chaos, with the capital in lockdown and clashes across Pakistan between police and protesters.
Police said any attempt by PTI supporters to enter Islamabad this time would be firmly suppressed.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah – who Khan said was involved in the assassination plot – issued a “red alert” on Friday warning of security threats to the gathering.
“PTI still has time (to cancel),” he said, citing the Pakistani Taliban and al-Qaeda among the extremist groups that could harm Khan.
The government says the assassination attempt was the work of a lone wolf currently in police custody, with police leaking a ‘confession’ video of the flea market owner saying he acted because Khan was against it Islam.
But Khan, a former international cricket star with a reputation as a playboy before his marriage, said he had long warned the government would blame a religious fanatic for any attempt to kill him.
Saturday’s rally comes two days after the government named a former spymaster as its next military chief.
The appointment of General Syed Asim Munir ended months of speculation over a position long seen as the real power in the nuclear-armed Islamic nation of 220 million people.
Munir served as head of the inter-service intelligence agency under Khan, but his tenure ended after just eight months following a reported falling out.
Pakistan’s military, the sixth largest in the world, is hugely influential in the country and has staged at least three coups since independence in 1947, in power for more than three decades.
Since his ousting, Khan has held a series of mass rallies across the country, drawing huge crowds.
Saturday’s rally is expected to be one of the largest yet.
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