Lahore: Influential cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri on Sunday began a "long march" from Lahore to Islamabad with thousands of his followers to pressure the Pakistan government to carry out wide-ranging reforms ahead of the upcoming general election.
Qadri, the head of the Tehrik Minhaj-ul-Quran, launched the march from his residence in Model Town area of Lahore. Some 5,000 supporters followed him in cars, buses and trucks.
The cleric has claimed he will be joined by up to one million people as he makes his way through Punjab province towards the federal capital.
Speaking to reporters outside his home, he claimed the PML-N government in Punjab had "sealed" the province to stop his march.
He also claimed the federal government had placed tankers filled with "acid and petrol" along the route to deter his supporters.
Describing his protest as a "democracy march", Qadri said: "The march will reach its destination and I warn the rulers not to create hurdle in its way".
He said the march was aimed at protecting human rights, ending poverty and injustice and ensuring the supremacy of the Constitution.
Qadri is travelling in a bomb-proof SUV and the authorities provided him with extensive security, including police commandoes and a special vehicle with equipment to jam remote-controlled explosive devices.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has warned Qadri that there were intelligence reports that terrorists would attack the march.
Qadri yesterday unveiled a 10-point charter of demands for electoral reforms.
He said he wanted the government to implement these demands by the time he reached Islamabad.
He warned his supporters would turn a ground near the parliament in Islamabad into "Tahrir Square".
Before beginning his march, Qadri made a new demand — the dismissal of the government in Balochistan province in the wake of deadly bomb attacks on Hazara Shias that killed nearly 100.
The cleric, who recently returned to Pakistan after living in Canada for seven years, has also demanded the dissolution of the Election Commission and installation of a caretaker set-up after consulting all political parties.
President Asif Ali Zardari sent PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Husain to tell Qadri to call off his march as the government was willing to accept his demands but the cleric spurned the request.