Defiant Pakistani PM calls for street rallies in his support

ISLAMABAD (AP) – A defiant Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Friday that he is in a fight to defend the country’s sovereignty and called his supporters to the streets to decide whether to oust him from opponents.

Khan made an impassioned televised address to the nation on the eve of a no-confidence motion in parliament, a day after Pakistan’s Supreme Court blocked his attempt to remain in power, ruling that parliament should be dissolved and quickly His move to hold elections was illegal.

Thursday’s court decision set the stage for a no-confidence vote, with opposition lawmakers saying they had the 342 seats needed to oust Khan, following the defection of several members of the ruling party and a small, but crucial, coalition ally. There are 172 votes in the assembly. ,

In his speech, Khan urged Pakistanis – especially the country’s youth, who have been the backbone of his support since the former cricket star’s conservative Islamic politician came to power in 2018 – to rally across the country on Sunday night. .

“You all have to come out after the evening prayer on Sunday to protest peacefully… I again say never indulge in violence,” he said. “It should be a peaceful protest.”

He vowed not to accept the results of the no-confidence vote on Saturday – a sign he knew he would lose the vote.

“You have to come out to protect your future. It is you who have to defend your democracy, your sovereignty and your freedom… It is your duty.”

Pakistan’s latest political crisis began last Sunday, when Khan bypassed the opposition’s initial no-confidence petition – a proposal that had taken weeks to make – and instead blamed his opponents for colluding with the United States to remove him. charged to.

Khan’s aide and deputy speaker of parliament Qasim Suri rejected the no-confidence vote on the grounds of collusion, while his information minister Fawad Chaudhry called the opposition “treacherous to the state” and accused them of colluding with a foreign power.

Khan dissolved Parliament and called for early elections but the opposition went to the Supreme Court with their case.

After four days of deliberations, hearing arguments of both the opposition and Khan’s lawyers, the five-member bench unanimously ordered the restoration of Parliament and a no-confidence vote on Saturday.

For his part, Khan said he wanted the Supreme Court to investigate communications between a senior US diplomat, whom he did not name, and Pakistani diplomats – communications he claimed were evidence of collusion.

Khan claimed that the US wanted him to go because of his foreign policy choices in favor of Russia and China, and on 24 February he traveled to Moscow, where he held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Russian tanks had landed in Ukraine. He has also said that the US dislikes his sharp criticism of Washington’s war on terrorism.

The US State Department has denied any involvement in Pakistan’s internal politics. State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters on Friday that “there is absolutely no truth to these allegations.”

“Of course, we continue to follow these developments and support Pakistan’s constitutional process but again, these allegations are absolutely not true,” she said.

Khan’s political opposition runs a gamble across the political spectrum, from leftists to fundamentalist religious parties. The largest of the opposition parties – the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League – have been accused of widespread corruption.

Pakistan Muslim League leader and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was convicted of corruption after being named in the so-called Panama Papers – a collection of leaked secret financial documents showing how some of the world’s richest hide their money and Incorporate a global law firm. in Panama. He was disqualified from holding office by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

If the opposition wins the no-confidence vote, it is up to Parliament to choose a new head of government – ​​who could be Sharif’s brother, Shahbaz Sharif. If the MLAs fail, elections will be held soon.

“I will not accept the government that has been imposed,” Khan said on Friday.

Khan has limited options and if he sees a huge crowd in his support, he may try to keep up with the momentum of street protests to put pressure on Parliament. But with his supporters being mostly youths, who make up the majority in Pakistan, they are also at risk of violence.

“Khan used a powerful vein of anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, which is not likely to end anytime soon,” Elizabeth Threlkeld, a Pakistan expert at US-based The Stimson Center, told the Associated Press.

Pakistan’s military, which has been on constant footing during the many previous turmoils that have surrounded a democratically elected government, has remained silent in the latest crisis. The military has seized power and ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 75-year history.

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Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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