WAZIRABAD – Former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan said on Friday he would resume his protest march to Islamabad once he has recovered from an apparent assassination attempt, as his supporters staged nationwide protests.
Mr Khan was shot in the leg on Thursday as he waved to crowds from a truck-mounted container from which he was leading a protest march on the capital, Islamabad, to press for early elections and the resignation of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
Mr Sharif led a coalition of parties that removed Mr Khan from power through a parliamentary vote in April.
“I will give a call to march on Islamabad once I get better,” Mr Khan said in a live address on Friday from a hospital in Lahore where he has been receiving medical treatment.
He said two shooters had tried to assassinate him in Thursday’s attack, adding that they had killed one person and injured 11 others.
Mr Khan said three people had devised the plan to assassinate him, without giving names or providing evidence for his allegations. His address came after his supporters came out on the streets of major cities on Friday, blocking major roads and clashing in some places with security forces.
Mr Khan’s supporters had begun gathering early on Friday at the place where he was shot and urged the former premier - known by millions around the world as a former star cricket player and captain of the national team - to resume his march on Islamabad.
In the eastern city of Lahore large groups of protesters burnt tyres and blocked major roads.
They also gathered outside the fortified office of the Punjab provincial governor and pelted the gate with stones, destroying security cameras and barriers, witnesses said.
Local television channels showed police using tear gas in Islamabad to disperse protesters who had blocked roads.
Protesters also blocked roads in the north-western city of Peshawar and in Karachi in the south.
Supporters said they wanted the march on Islamabad to continue.
“It cannot stop. People are very angry, it will become more intense,” Mr Ansar Bashir, 40, a supporter who witnessed the shooting from close by, told Reuters while holding a flag of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
The vehicle Mr Khan was travelling in remained parked at the site, a busy street in Wazirabad about 200km east of Islamabad. Some shops there had reopened by early Friday but there was an air of apprehension.
“This has given Wazirabad a bad name. He should stop (the protests), more lives will be lost,” said Mr Tahirul Qamar, a medical worker who had come to the market.
Punjab Health Minister Dr Yasmeen Rashid, also a member of PTI, told Reuters two bullets had hit Mr Khan in the shin and the thigh.
According to Punjab government spokesman and PTI leader Mussarat Jamshed Cheema, Mr Khan has demanded that police investigate Prime Minister Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and intelligence official Major-General Faisal, alleging they were behind the attack.
Mr Khan and his party have not produced any evidence to support that allegation. Mr Sharif and Mr Sanaullah have condemned the attack and deny involvement.
The military did not respond to a request for comment on Mr Khan’s allegation, but earlier condemned the incident.
Mr Sharif has called for a transparent inquiry into the shooting.
Mr Sanaullah, speaking to journalists on Friday, expressed concern about a video statement that he said was given in police custody, in which a man presented as the alleged shooter says he was motivated by religious reasons to attack Khan.
The video, whose authenticity Reuters was unable to confirm, was run widely by Pakistani media.
Punjab police confirmed they had made an arrest, but it was not clear if this was the person shown in the footage.
The interior minister said he feared the video might encourage other religious extremists to take matters into their own hands, and he requested that the PTI review Mr Khan’s security arrangements. REUTERS