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June 24, 2017

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Pakistan's Khan vows to protest until PM quits

ISLAMABAD--Pakistan's Imran Khan vowed Saturday that thousands of protesters rallying in Islamabad would not move until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stepped down, as the cricketer-turned-politician attempts to topple the government he claims was elected fraudulently.

Addressing a rally after leading protesters from the eastern city of Lahore, Khan said he would stage a sit-in on Saturday afternoon that would continue until Sharif leaves office.

"The time has arrived when the nation should decide. I will stay here until the prime minister resigns. We don't accept a prime minister who has been appointed after rigged elections," Khan told supporters in the early hours of Saturday after arriving in the capital.

The May 2013 general election saw Sharif take power in a landslide, and international observers who monitored the polls said they were free and credible.

The demonstration is the culmination of the "long march" — in reality a motorized cavalcade — that set off Thursday from Lahore, situated around 300 kilometers (190 miles) away, to try to topple the government.

Khan has announced that he will speak again to the gathering at 3:00 pm (1000 GMT), though a delay of several hours would not be uncommon in Pakistan.

The marchers took more than 36 hours to reach the capital as convoys made stopovers in various cities along the road, where they were warmly welcomed.

"We went to the election commission and the supreme court against the rigging in the elections. When we could not get justice, then we decided that there is no other way but to come on roads to get justice," Khan said.

Populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, who led thousands of his own followers alongside Khan, said he would present a list of reforms later in the afternoon he wanted to see enacted, speaking atop a shipping container being used as a stage.

Police and witnesses said on Friday that activists from Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party clashed with supporters of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) in the town of Gujranwala, some 200 kilometers southeast of Islamabad.

Khan said shots were fired on his march, telling ARY television news: "They threw stones at us ... They fired bullets at us."

However, police said there were no shots and an AFP photographer at the scene also heard no gunfire.

Supporters of PTI, which came third in last year's election, lined up to welcome the convoy in towns along the Grand Trunk Road that links Lahore and Islamabad.

Exact numbers for the march have not been confirmed and organizers said they expected a clearer picture once all of those who joined the rally congregate in Islamabad.

Slow Progress

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