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Nawaz Sharif kicks off roadshow to Lahore in show of strength

Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif speaks during the Summit for Refugees and Migrants at U.N. headquarters, Monday, Sept. 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s ousted premier Nawaz Sharif embarked on a journey to Lahore from Islamabad via the famous Grand Trunk Road to show his popularity among the people despite security concerns following a bomb blast in the Punjab province’s capital. He held a meeting with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, cabinet ministers and senior party leaders before starting the 370-km-long journey. Sharif was accompanied by hundreds of his supporters. The former prime minister has not visited his hometown and his stronghold, Lahore, since he was disqualified by the Supreme Court last week over the Panama Papers scandal. His party has estimated that thousands of supporters would line up on the road side to greet him. Earlier, fear griped Sharif’s party workers after the truck bombing killed at least two persons and injured 30 others. Sources in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party said that some of the senior party leaders were concerned about the security of Sharif. He has also planned to deliver speeches at important places where even bigger crowds of supporters are expected to turn up. “The security is an issue, though elaborate measures are being taken to make the journey free of any risk,” a PML-N leader said. Sharif, however, has brushed aside all concerns and told his colleagues that it was vital to touch his supporters to inform them about his ouster, according to sources. He would also address a rally in Lahore after reaching the city. The timing and venue of gathering has not been announced, as it is not known how long he would take to reach to Lahore. Normally, it takes up to five hours from Islamabad to Lahore while driving on the Grand Trunk Road but Sharif’s convoy may take around two days, according to organisers. Sharif’s travel plan has already upset his rival Imran Khan who in a press conference has alleged that Sharif was disgracing the court by challenging its decision. “It is strange that a man who has been disqualified is planning to travel on the road and tell people that he is innocent,” said the cricketer-turned-politician who is the chief of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. Meanwhile, Canada-based cleric of Pakistani-origin Tahir-ul-Qadri, who has returned to Lahore, criticised Sharif’s roadshow and demanded that he should change it.

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