Pak cleric to go ahead with long march demanding poll reforms



Lahore: In the face of growing opposition from political parties and traders' associations, cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri on Friday said he was determined to go ahead with a "long march" from Lahore to Islamabad next week to pressure the government on electoral reforms.

"No one should have any doubts. There will be a march as scheduled," Qadri, 61, told a news conference here.

He spoke hours after the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a member of the ruling coalition at the centre, withdrew its support for the rally on January 14.

Qadri, who has a huge following in Pakistan, recently returned to the country after living in Canada for seven years and shook up political circles by demanding electoral reforms ahead of polls expected to be held by May.

He has demanded that the ruling Pakistan People's Party should involve the army and judiciary in forming a caretaker government to oversee the polls.

The PPP and main opposition PML-N have accused Qadri of acting as a front for the security establishment and questioned the source of his funding for a massive advertisement campaign and the proposed "long march".

Authorities have barricaded a square outside the parliament in Islamabad where Qadri intends to hold a gathering and Interior Minister Rehman Malik has warned that the Taliban are planning to attack the march.

Malik also described Qadri's march as a "conspiracy to destabilise the government".

Influential groups of lawyers and traders in Rawalpindi and Islamabad too have said they are opposed to Qadri's "long march".

But Qadri said he would not be deterred by such developments. "I am not scared of death. I will gather my family tonight and draw up my will, to tell them what they should do if I am assassinated," he said.

"Let them seal Islamabad, we know how to open the routes," he said. Qadri claimed President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, Interior Minister Malik and PML-N leaders Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif would be responsible if there was a terror attack on his rally.

Qadri has accused both the PPP-led government and PML-n of being corrupt and incompetent and called for "meaningful" electoral reforms.

At one point, he said he would be willing to head an interim government but changed his stance after being criticised by political parties and civil society groups. The cleric addressed a gathering of about 200,000 in Lahore on December 23 and gave the government till January 10 to initiate electoral reforms.

PTI