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Cleric sparks Pak protests
- Thousands descend on Islamabad in response to preacher’s call

Islamabad, Jan. 14: Thousands of Pakistanis fed up with a government they say is corrupt and indifferent to the plight of common citizens descended on the capital today, responding to the call of a charismatic cleric who has quickly become a powerful but mysterious political force.

The dramatic entry into Pakistani politics of Tahir-ul-Qadri, who returned to Pakistan from Canada after 10 years last month, has sparked concern from some that he is seeking to derail elections expected this spring at the behest of the army.

Qadri has denied those allegations and insisted his vaguely worded demands for election reform are simply meant to root out corruption in the political system. He pledged several weeks ago to lead a “million-man march” on Islamabad today to press his demands.

The turnout fell far short of Qadri’s promise, but there was no lack of enthusiasm from the crowd. Many waved green and white Pakistani flags and wore buttons emblazoned with the cleric’s picture. Although some spoke of election reform, most were focused on demands like fixing the country’s rampant energy shortages and rooting out corruption.

“I have joined Qadri’s march because he can get us our rights which has long been usurped by feudals and the elite class,” Noor-ul-Haq, a protester, told The Telegraph. He strongly denied allegations by political parties that Qadri has the support of the army. “He has received no support from the military. He is fighting for our rights and rid the country of corruption and those plundering national wealth,” Noor-ul-Haq added.

“There is no electricity and no fuel, and the government has done nothing,” said Faizan Baig, a 23-year-old pharmaceutical company worker who travelled to Islamabad from the northwest town of Abbottabad.

Baig was among 10,000 people who streamed into the capital throughout the day today and camped out on the main avenue running through the city.

Male protesters gathered on one side of the road while women and children were on the other, divided by a grass median.

 
 
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