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Lahore protesters urge top politicians to step down over deadly 2014 clashes

Supporters of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) carry their party flags during an anti-government protest rally in Lahore on January 17, 2018. (AFP / ARIF ALI)
ISLAMABAD: Thousands of protesters took part in a mass rally in Lahore on Wednesday to demand the resignation of Punjab’s Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah.

The demonstrators and opposition politicians hold the two men responsible for the deaths of 14 people in clashes with police outside the home of Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) leader Muhammed Tahir-ul-Qadri in the Model Town suburb of the city in June 2014.

Tahir-ul-Qadri led Wednesday’s protest, supported by Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), former President Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and leaders from the Pakistan Muslim League-Qaid-e-Azam, Majlis Wahdat-ul-Muslimeen and Awami Muslim League.

Protesters began gathering at noon in the city’s busy Mall Road, and 6,000 police were on duty to maintain security.

Addressing the crowd from a temporary stage on top of a container near the Punjab Assembly building, Tahir-ul-Qadri said: “The entire political leadership is here to honor humanity, to empower the weak, to give voice to the voiceless. We have gathered to wake up the nation against the suppression of human rights.”

Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is the brother of Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister who was ordered to step down and disqualified from office by the Supreme Court last June. The Sharif family cared only about their own dynasty, the former president told the rally.

“We can oust them from power anytime and they are forcing us to do so,” Zardari said, while urging the continuity of the democratic process.

National Assembly opposition leader Khursheed Shah of the PPP told the crowd: “We are here to seek justice. We are all one to show solidarity with those killed in 2014 in Model Town.”

Although Imran Khan and Zardari both took part in the rally, they did not appear on the stage together because of political differences. PTI spokesman Fawad Chaudhry said to do so would damage the PTI’s movement against corruption.

Wednesday’s rally was expected to conclude by midnight at the request of the High Court in Lahore, but further protests are expected.

Minister of State for Information Maryam Aurangzeb said: “We should keep in mind why they are protesting. Just months before general elections, Nawaz Sharif’s popularity pushed these parties together against the government.”