RAWALPINDI, Pakistan: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in his first public appearance since being wounded in a gun attack earlier this month, said on Saturday he was calling off his protest march to Islamabad because he feared it would cause havoc in the country.
Khan has been holding country-wide protests to push the government for early elections since being ousted from power in April. The protests were to culminate in a march to Islamabad, which threatened to worsen political turmoil in the country which is battling an economic crisis.
“I have decided not to go to Islamabad because I know there will be havoc and the loss will be to the country,” Khan said while speaking at a gathering of thousands of supporters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near the capital Islamabad.
Tight security was in place for Khan’s appearance. A police official told local television channel Geo TV that a total of 10,000 personnel had been deployed for the event, with snipers positioned at various points for his security.
Khan was earlier this month shot in the shin when his anti-government protest convoy bound for Islamabad came under attack in the east of the country, in what his aides said was a clear assassination attempt by his rivals.
On Saturday, Khan arrived on stage using a walking frame and addressed the crowd from behind bulletproof glass. He said he had been told by various security sources there was still a threat to his life.
Khan said he was consulting his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), on the possibility of resigning from all provincial assemblies in a fresh bid to push for early elections. PTI has already resigned from the federal parliament, but remains in power in two provinces and two administrative units.
He also said he would fight with his “last drop of blood”. “I have seen death from up close,” said Khan, who hobbled to the stage with a walking frame to speak to supporters from a plush seat behind a panel of bulletproof glass.
“I’m more worried about the freedom of Pakistan than my life,” he told the crowd. “I will fight for this country until my last drop of blood.”
The rally was squeezed onto a motorway in Rawalpindi, a garrison city neighbouring the capital Islamabad and home to the headquarters of the military.
In the November 3 assassination attempt, a gunman opened fire from close range as Khan’s open-top container truck made its way through a crowded street.
Buildings overlooking the site of the rally were searched overnight, a police official told AFP, while snipers were perched on rooftops surveying the mostly male supporters whipping red and green flags back and forth.
Khan himself was surrounded by a crush of bodyguards at all times, while mobile phone signals were jammed in the vicinity.
Authorities threw a ring of steel around Islamabad to prevent his supporters from marching on government buildings, with thousands of security personnel deployed and roads blocked by shipping containers.
Khan-led protests in May spiralled into 24 hours of chaos, with the capital blockaded and running clashes across Pakistan between police and protesters.