LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Tens of thousands of supporters of a popular opposition lawmaker who hopes to become Pakistan’s prime minister gathered Sunday in the eastern city of Lahore as his political party launched its campaign for July elections.
Chanting slogans for change and waving flags, supporters of Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party filled a popular park and surroundings in the power base of rival and former Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif who was disqualified in last July by the Supreme Court for concealing his assets abroad.
Khan’s party managed the impressive show as its supporters traveled to the city from across the country.
A long-time politician and former popular cricket player, Khan aspires to become premier. His opposition PTI has emerged as one of the leading parties in recent years promising ‘change.’
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Saima Siddiq, who attended the rally with her husband and children, said the existing system is “rotten.” She hopes Khan will make the country prosperous.
The rally in Iqbal Park took place around a grand minaret built at the location where a resolution was adopted in 1940 demanding independence from British rule.
“I pledge here to work till my last breath and last drop of my blood to make this nation and this country great and prosperous,” he told the massive, cheering crowd.
Presenting an 11-point agenda, Khan sought support in bringing about ‘peaceful political change’ and to defeat “corrupt” politicians who he said have done nothing for the betterment of the common man.
Other political parties also held rallies Sunday.
Former president Asif Zardari’s Pakistan People Party held a rally in the country’s commercial hub, Karachi. Zardari’s young son and party leader Bilawal Zardari criticized both Khan and Sharif.
The newly revived alliance of seven religious parties, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal or MMA, held a modest show in the northwestern city of Mardan. MMA chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman vowed not let anybody impose a western agenda on the country.
Supporters of Aftab Sherpao, former interior minister and lawmaker, gathered in the northwestern city of Swabi to start their electioneering in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Also on Sunday, the Pashtun Protection Movement, a group that raises a voice for missing people and criticizes the all-powerful army for its treatment of Pashtuns, held a rally in the scenic Swat valley.
Associated Press reporter Munir Ahmed in Lahore contributed to this report.