Protesters led by influential clerics meet in Islamabad and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Khan

ISLAMABAD: An influential Pakistani cleric, who heads a demonstration against Prime Minister Imran Khan, arrived here on Friday to hold a gigantic protest rally, demanding that the Prime Minister resign.

Right-wing chief Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F), Maulana Fazlur Rehman, launched the Azadi March along with leaders of other opposition parties on October 27 from the southern province of Sindh, demanding the resignation of Khan, accusing him of fraud. the general elections of 2018.

He also accused the prime minister of mishandling of the economy, inefficiency and bad government that has increased the difficulties of ordinary people.

JUI-F activists have breakfast before the start of 'Azadi March' in Islamabad November 1, 2019 (AFP photo)

Rehman was scheduled to arrive in Islamabad on October 31. However, it was delayed as his caravan of hundreds of vehicles made a slow progress, JUI-F leaders said.

The cleric traveled through Sukkur, Multan, Lahore and Gujranwala to reach Islamabad in the wee hours of Friday.

The person (Prime Minister Khan) has come to power by manipulating elections. He should see the writing on the wall and resign or we will expel him, he told his followers along the way.

In an interview with AAJ TV, Rehman said there would be chaos in the country if the prime minister did not resign.

According to security institutions, thousands of people participate in the Azadi March.

The crowd further swelled in Islamabad, as supporters of opposition parties, including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People Party (PPP), joined the anti-government protest rally.

A caravan of supporters of Rehman enter Islamabad, Pakistan on Oct. 31, 2019. (AP photo)

Protesters camped on the extensive ground near the Peshawar Mor area, where different political parties have established their camps to house their workers.

Addressing the protesters at the scene, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that Imran Khan is a puppet and that the nation is not ready to bow its head to a selected prime minister and those who have selected him.

Rehman in a tweet thanked all protesters and opposition leaders for their support.

He said the demonstration will now begin after Friday's prayers and that all opposition leaders will be present.

It is not clear if the protesters would disperse after the demonstration or settle for a sit-down to force the government to accept their demands.

Meanwhile, the Pakistani authorities have made elaborate security arrangements to control the sea of ​​protesters. The main roads have been totally or partially blocked when shipping containers are placed.

Barbed wires have been used as obstacles to prevent protesters if they try to move towards the Red Zone that includes key official buildings and diplomatic enclaves.

Additional police and paramilitary personnel have also been deployed in Islamabad to prevent any violence. The government deployed army personnel in sensitive places in the capital.

The Islamabad local administration requisitioned 111 Brigade in the highly secured Red Zone, which houses sensitive buildings like Parliament House, Supreme Court, Foreign Office, Pakistan Television, Radio Pakistan and Diplomatic Enclave (a cluster of dozens of foreign embassies).

Interior Minister Ijaz Shah warned of an offensive if there is violence. I hope they (the protesters) follow the agreement they have signed with the government to keep the peace, he said.

Prime Minister M Khan has already denounced the protest and said opposition parties were trying to blackmail him.

The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party claimed that the protest was promoted by the PML-N and the PPP to force the government to release its main leaders, currently imprisoned.

Khan and his party ruled out his resignation, but showed his willingness to accept any other demand to improve the electoral system or the government system.

The protest occurs when the government struggles to lift the country's faltering economy.