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Former Pakistani PM Calls Off Protest, Gives Government Six Days To Call Vote

Imran Khan waves as he travels on a vehicle to lead a protest march to Islamabad in Mardan on May 25.
Imran Khan waves as he travels on a vehicle to lead a protest march to Islamabad in Mardan on May 25.

ISLAMABAD -- Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has called off a protest in the capital at the last moment, saying he would give the current government six days to set a date for elections.

An estimated 10,000 people had already gathered in the center of Islamabad by early morning on May 26, with thousands more expected to arrive for the open-ended sit-in, which many feared could devolve into major violence after sporadic clashes with police in front of parliament.

"I am giving you six days," Khan, a former cricket star turned Islamist politician, said after arriving in a long convoy of vehicles as demonstrators waved flags.

"If you don't do it after six days, I will return," he said, adding that he was also demanding the dissolution of parliament.

Khan Issues Ultimatum After Pakistan Clashes
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Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who replaced Kahn in April after the government fell in a no-confidence vote, immediately rejected the demand to set an election date, saying in parliament that he would not be "blackmailed." He did, however, leave open the possibility of talks on the issue.

Organizers planned for Khan supporters to travel by car and bus to Islamabad's city limits, then march on foot from there.

As tensions rose, the government banned the rally, only for the Supreme Court to issue a last-minute ruling allowing it to take place, but only at a specifically allocated public grounds and on condition the demonstrators disperse after an address by Khan.

The protests on May 25 saw the arrest of more than 1,700 Khan supporters in the cities of Karachi and Lahore, as well as Islamabad.

Khan was pushed out of power amid widespread discontent over inflation and discontent within the government over several issues, including moves that exacerbated Pakistan's worsening financial footing.

Khan has blamed the ouster of his coalition government on Washington, saying it plotted to oust him with Sharif's help because of his close relationship with China and Russia.

The rallies have been framed by his calls to "liberate" Pakistan from the U.S.-imposed government.