Thousands of antigovernment protesters in Islamabad marched to the Parliament on Tuesday to demand the resignation of Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Reuters reports.
Opposition leaders claim that Sharif was unfairly elected to power last year.
The protests are being led by former international cricketer Imran Khan — head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party — and prominent politician-cleric Tahir ul-Qadri.
Khan, who is demanding that Sharif’s government make way for fresh elections, alleges that Sharif’s party won last year’s poll through fraudulent means. On Monday, he also claimed that 34 members of his PTI party would resign from their seats in the National Assembly in protest against the current regime.
Qadri is accusing Sharif of corruption and wants the current administration replaced by a unity government of technocrats. The two leaders have held separate protests in the past, but announced earlier this week that they would join forces to march on Parliament.
An estimated 50,000 protesters have been holding demonstrations in Islamabad for five days. Reuters says that some are equipped with cranes and bolt cutters to dismantle and remove the shipping containers that are being used to barricade the government “red zone,” where Parliament and other state buildings are located.
Sharif originally called on the country's powerful military — which deposed him in a 1999 coup — to secure the red zone, but Khan issued him a warning. "If police try to stop us and there is violence, Nawaz, I will not spare you, I will come after you and put you in jail," Reuters reported him as saying to a crowd of supporters.
As marchers approached the capital, Sharif relented and announced that protesters could enter the area. Sharif’s daughter Maryam Sharif said on Tuesday through her Twitter account that this was because there were families among the demonstrators.
The Guardian reported that protesters, including women throwing rose petals on the ground, were not stopped by police officers as they marched into the red zone.
The protests have put pressure on the weakened government that already has poor relations with the military. It also threatens to further shake the stability of Pakistan, which is battling against a bloody Taliban insurgency and a high unemployment rate.