Thousands call for Zardari to go
By Tousif Khan - Fri Oct 28, 2:36 pm
LAHORE: Thousands of supporters of Pakistan’s main opposition party took to the streets in a protest rally on Friday, dancing to drums and shouting for President Asif Ali Zardari to step down.
The Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) was expected to draw large crowds at the rally in its political heartland, the city of Lahore where it controls the Punjab provincial government despite being in opposition at a national level.
Party faithful have been called to denounce government corruption, widespread power cuts, inflation and the poor standing of living, demanding early elections before the government’s five-year mandate expires in 2013.
As the crowd gathered force, groups of PML-N followers danced to a drum as party singers praising leader Nawaz Sharif were blasted out at top volume.
Participants were served free drinks as slogans of “Go Zardari, go” echoed everywhere. “The time has come to shunt out Zardari,” activists shouted.
Disillusionment is high with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that swept to power in February 2008, two months after Zardari’s wife, ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated.
Lahore, with a population of eight million, is Pakistan’s second biggest city and the capital of the most populous province Punjab, which commands the greatest number of seats in the national parliament.
That makes it bitterly contested territory where opposition leaders are targeting the unpopular Zardari and trying to whip up votes for the future.
An AFP reporter said several thousand people swarmed along a wide, mile-long avenue, where participants were asked to text their names and constituency to Nawaz Sharif on a special number.
Demonstrators were frisked while armed policemen guarded the venue, where a large stage had been set up with bulletproof glass next to hoardings of Nawaz and his brother Shahbaz, chief minister of Punjab.
Nawaz is not expected to address the rally, but is scheduled to return from a private visit to Turkey later Friday.
Police commandos were seen on the rooftops of buildings and Lahore police chief Malik Ahmed Raza Tahir told AFP that his officers were on high alert to prevent any possible attack by Islamist militants.
Members of Zardari’s main ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) have lashed out at the Sharifs, accusing them of misappropriating Punjab resources.
“They are using government resources and functionaries for their political show,” Raja Riaz, who served as senior minister under Sharif when the PPP was briefly in the provincial ruling coalition, told AFP.