Imran Khan falls off stage at Pakistan rally, suffers head injury

LAHORE, Pakistan (AFP) - Pakistani politician and former cricketer Imran Khan was rushed to hospital with head injuries on Tuesday after falling off a lift taking him onto the stage for an election rally.

Television footage showed Mr Khan, leader of the Pakistan Movement for Justice party (PTI), bleeding from the head as he was carried by aides through the crowd at the event in Pakistan's second largest city Lahore.

Mr Khan, who won only one seat in 2002 and boycotted polls in 2008, has led an electric campaign, galvanising the middle class and young people in what he has called a "tsunami" of support that will propel him into office.

The 60-year-old, who has undertaken a punishing schedule of daily rallies but who is known for his physical fitness, tumbled from a riser along with several of his staff, seemingly after one of them lost their balance.

"Imran Khan fell from a lifter. He has received injuries to his head and he has been taken to hospital," Mr Malik Ishtiaq, a local spokesman for Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), told AFP in tears.

PTI spokeswoman Shirin Mazari told AFP that he was injured on his forehead after falling from a height of over two metres, but was conscious.

Party officials initially said Mr Khan would be back to address the rally, but he was later transferred from a small private hospital to the cancer hospital he set up in honour of his mother for specialist treatment.

"The neurosurgeon, CT scan specialists and all other doctors and medical staff are alert over here," Mr Khawaja Nazir, a spokesman for the Shaukat Khanum hospital, told AFP.

Television images showed the politician being transported on a stretcher, his head swathed in bandages.

Hundreds of well wishers and party supporters gathered outside the hospital, chanting "Long Live Imran Khan", an AFP reporter said.

Mr Khan's main rival, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif tipped to win the election, conveyed his sympathies over the fall and was praying for his early recovery, his Pakistan Mulsim League-N party spokesman Siddiqul Farooq said.

The dramatic development came at the end of a day that saw 17 people killed and dozens more wounded in bomb attacks in north-west Pakistan, taking the death toll in the bloody campaign for Saturday's general election past 100.

Tuesday's attacks took place in the north-western town of Hangu, a flashpoint for sectarian violence, and in the north-western district of Dir, where Pakistani troops crushed a Taleban-led insurgency in 2009.

The Pakistani Taleban has condemned the polls as un-Islamic and directly threatened the main parties in the outgoing ruling coalition led by the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and other secular allies.

Twelve people were killed and more than 40 injured at Hangu when a suicide bomber targeted election candidate Syed Janan, said Mr Musarrat Qadeem, information minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Mr Janan, who is seeking re-election to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly for the right-wing Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, told AFP he had been wounded on his

head and shoulder.

Later on Tuesday, a roadside bombing killed five people, including the brother of a provincial assembly candidate for the PPP who had gone door to door to canvass for votes in Dir, police said. Seven other people were wounded.

Taleban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the attack in Dir, but denied involvement for the suicide attack in Hangu.