Pakistan political capital simmers

Tens of thousands of people are expected to rally in Lahore calling for Pakistani President to quit.

Lahore: Tens of thousands of people are expected to rally in Pakistan`s political capital Lahore over the next few days calling for President Asif Ali Zardari to quit and for elections next year.

Appetite is growing for polls in the city of eight million, Pakistan`s second biggest and the capital of the most populous province Punjab, which commands the most number of seats in the national Parliament.

That makes it bitterly contested political territory where opposition leaders are holding major rallies targeting the unpopular Zardari and trying to whip up votes for the future.

Chief among them is former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party controls Punjab and is the main opposition party at a national level. He is expected to draw large crowds at a rally on Friday.

"Join the protest rally on 28th October against costly electricity, power cuts and the worst corruption," read banners strung up by PML-N throughout the city.

"Come to change your destiny, come to save the country from looters and plunderers," chant party activists through public address systems.

Disillusionment is high with the Pakistan People`s Party (PPP) that swept to power on a five-year ticket in February 2008, two months after Zardari`s wife, ex-prime minister Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated.

On Monday, a man committed suicide by self-immolation outside the federal Parliament in the capital Islamabad.

On Wednesday, a man in his 70s died after waiting all night to collect his pension from tardy bank officials, triggering outrage in the media.

Pakistan`s Human Rights Commission accused the government of callous apathy in the face of such desperation. "This apathy is giving way to violent behaviour in society and the people are increasingly keen to launch vociferous protests in the hope that their plight would be noticed by someone," it said.

In Lahore, the malaise has been compounded by an unprecedented outbreak of dengue fever, infecting more than 16,000 and killing more than 248 people.

It is that anger that the PML-N is hoping to tap into by calling for early elections, which most observers now predict sometime in the autumn of 2012.

"There are only two options -- seeing the anger in the people, it (the government) should quit and call fresh elections, or the people should come out and send them packing," senior PML-N leader Zafar Ali Shah said.

Interior minister and PPP loyalist Rehman Malik hit back, telling reporters that as the ruling party in Punjab, the PML-N was as corrupt as anyone else.

"They are not going to achieve anything from such protests. Being the government of the largest province Punjab, which is 52 percent of Pakistan, they have a major part in corruption," Malik told reporters.


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