LAHORE: The Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) took out a rally after Friday prayers today. The rally moved from Nasser Bagh to Bhati Chowk, where PML-N leaders including Shahbaz Sharif addressed the gathered public and party workers.
Shahbaz Sharif called for Zardari to own up his corruption and quit as President, submitting him to public justice.
Meanwhile PPP leaders accused the PML-N of utilising state machinery for organising a political rally.
End of live updates
Shahbaz Sharif addressing the PML-N rally in Lahore said that President Asif Ali Zardari’s corruption had reached unprecedented levels and that he, his party and all his supporters would not rest till they drove Zardari and his corrupt friends out of the government.
Sharif said that in comparison to the projects Nawaz Sharif did in 1992 and 1996, building the motorway and Gawadar port, what project had Zardari worked on? He taunted the current government saying that during the time when Nawaz Sharif was Prime Minister, there was no loadshedding. While in the current government, it took public protests to get the government to release funds for fuel procurement and resume electricity supply to industries.
Sharif accused Zardari to look the other way when natural calamities such as the floods and dengue epidemic ravaged the country. Sharif alleged that the President chose to go globe trotting and counting his looted money in London.
Sharif rejected claims that he had used government money to fund his foreign trips saying “trips, accommodation in hotels of my self and my entourage used personal funds”.
He also dispelled claims that he was going to be purchasing a new helicopter “may he be cursed who buys a multi-million rupee helicopter when people are starving,” Sharif said, adding “I would rather walk, ride a cycle or a motorbike but would not buy a helicopter.”
Shahbaz Sharif claimed that those present in the Lahore rally, in Karachi, in Quetta, were rising up against Zardari and were calling on the President to resign and hand himself over to the public for justice.
“I make this rally a witness that people of Karachi and Quetta have stood up against Zardari . . . hand the government over to us [PML-N], hand over the money to us . . . we will hang you in the public square,” Sharif boomed.
Sharif defended allegations of corruption from within his own provincial government, which he heads, saying “I will not lie that corruption still exists, but I promise you that I have eliminated corruption from the top level of the Punjab government”.
Our correspondent Taha Siddiqui reports that Shahbaz Sharif, Chaudry Nisar, Hamzah Shahbaz, Khwaja Saad Rafique, Khwaja Asif have arrived.
A 1.5 kilometre area is completely packed at the venue now.
Sources say that Shahbaz Sharif has been communicated that there are a huge number of participants at the rally and therefore a go ahead has been given to him to give a tough message to the federal government.
Javed Hashmi, Pir Sabir Shah, Abdul Qadir Baloch, and Khwaja Asif will be helping him out in drafting this speech that may carry a "very strong" message of a nationwide movement to oust the govt.
Senior media gurus including Mujibur Rehman Shami, Mohammad Malick and other editors and heads of channels are also present here.
Tribune correspondent Rana Tanveer reports that Hamza Shahbaz is about to reach the dais, however some people are returning to their homes, disappointed, after they finding out that Nawaz Sharif is not going to appear.
Police commandos are seen on the rooftops of buildings and Lahore police chief Malik Ahmed Raza Tahir tells AFP that his officers were on high alert to prevent any possible attack by militants.
Tribune correspondent Ali Usman reports that PML-N workers coming to Lahore from other cities are entering the city without paying toll tax at Ravi bridge.
Vehicles carrying banners are also not paying toll tax and are being facilitated by party workers.
Tribune correspondent Rana Tanveer reports that Hamza Shahbaz and Khwaja Saad Rafique have arrived and started walking from Nasser Bagh towards the venue.
Members of Zardari's main ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) have lashed out at the Sharifs, accusing them of misappropriating Punjab resources.
"They are using government resources and functionaries for their political show," Raja Riaz, who served as senior minister under Sharif when the PPP was briefly in the provincial ruling coalition, told AFP.
Tribune correspondent Asad Kharal reports that three clowns on stilts arrive at the rally and earn some laughs. They are running through the crowds with posters of Shahbaz and Nawaz Sharif and also brandishing placards calling for an end to corruption and loadshedding.
Supporters are getting into the rallying spirit, dancing to the beat of the dhol and waving stuffed-toys (tigers).
Tribune correspondents Taha Siddiqui and Abdul Manan report that barbed wires can be seen all around the venue and the atmosphere is tense.
They add that there are more police personnel than supporters. Regular chants of "Go Zardari Go!" can be heard from the crowd.
It is expected that the main leadership will not arrive before 5pm.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters at the Karachi airport that the political rallies in Lahore are a "fight between the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and PML-N".
"Why is the People's Party being dragged into it?" he remarked.
He also warned that the PML-N should be warned not to challenge PPP workers.
"Our PPP workers are very enthusiastic. If they decide to march towards Raiwind, we will not be able to stop them," he said.
Correspondents Taha Siddiqui and Abdul Mannan report that the threat assessment is high and there are multiple checkpoints for everyone to cross through which has resulted in some disputes.
Residents of the area are not being allowed to go back home. One ambulance driver was stuck with a patient at a check point, pleading to be allowed to leave the rally premises. But the police were adamant that no cars can leave or be allowed in as per orders.
Tribune correspondent Asad Kharal reports that supporters have started showing up with dhol walas after Friday prayers, whereas earlier there were about 50 people gathered at Nasser Bagh.
Kharal added that although security is strict and the direct roads to Nasser Bagh have been blocked, his team was able to take other routes to the venue, which he said indicated a security lapse.”We have managed to get their directly, it just took 30 minutes longer,” he said.
He also reported that their were security gates for men and women, and female police were bodysearching the women entering the venue on foot.
Shops in the vicinity are still open but extra wardens have been deployed to ensure better security.
The Express Tribune's Lahore correspondent Abdul Manan reported earlier that MNA Hamza Shahbaz Sharif, Shahbaz’s son, has been tasked with visiting all provincial assembly constituencies in Lahore.
He is visiting and addressing four constituencies on average per day to garner support. Party members told The Tribune that the rally is seen as a test for Hamza’s candidature for the post of PML-N’s general secretary.
Party members told The Tribune that the rallies are the party’s way of testing the waters.
The Express Tribune's correspondent Asad Kharal reports that various PML-N MPA's are gathering supporters from their respective areas and marching towards Nasser Bagh.
A Union Council head told The Express Tribune that supporters have mounted buses to reach the venue, and that the Union Council leaders have paid the fare for transport themselves.
Pervez Malik, a PML-N MP from Lahore, claimed on Thursday that 150,000 to 200,000 people were expected to join the rally today and that “Zardari will have no option but to bow before the will of people and step down”.
Comment on The Express Tribune's Facebook page:
Waqar Sulehri Instead of doing this drama. they should resign from national and provincial assemblies.
The Express Tribune's Lahore correspondent Rana Tanveer tells us that the Mall Road, Data Darbar and Punjab Secretariat have been barricaded in preparation for the rally.
The stage has been erected on the road that leads from Nasir Bagh.
Security is especially strict near Bhati Chowk, where police and elite force personnel have deployed.
A member of The Express Tribune's Facebook page notes:
Sajjad Gul One thing you won't see in the PML(N) rally, is "PASSION". and for God sake a rally on a main road will cause traffic jam, which automatically looks big crowed....
PML-N’s rally today is part of the party’s ‘Go Zardari Go campaign’ against what it says are the PPP-led government’s three major failures: load shedding, rising prices and widespread corruption.
With rivalry growing between the PTI and the PML-N, today's rally is also expected to be a show of strength prior to the PTI's upcoming rally in Lahore.
The party members said that PML-N has, in principle, decided to topple the government within two months.
PML-N’s list of demands
PPP will be asked to:
1. Implement the resolution passed during the All Parties Conference (APC) on September 29
2. Eliminate corruption from the government and to take action against all corrupt officers and ministers
3. Bring back the money held in secret Swiss Banks’ accounts
4. Appoint a neutral NAB chairman
5. Notify an independent election commission
6. Hold a countrywide population census
7. Present a plan for energy generation and remove the hurdles in the Punjab government’s way of implementing Nandipur and Chechoke Mallian power projects
8. Investigate former Sindh minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza’s allegations against MQM through a commission or summon him in parliament so that he can explain his allegations
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