Imran Khan, the former Pakistan prime minister, said on Saturday that he was calling off his protest march to Islamabad because he feared it would cause havoc, as he made his first public appearance since surviving an assassination attempt earlier this month.
The former cricketer appeared defiant as he addressed tens of thousands of his supporters outside Islamabad and told them to not give up hope that he would return to power, saying “fear makes an entire nation into slaves”.
“I have seen death from up close,” Mr Khan told the crowd after hobbling with a walking frame to take a seat behind a panel of bulletproof glass.
“I’m more worried about the freedom of Pakistan than my life. I will fight for this country until my last drop of blood,” the 70-year-old vowed.
The rally in Rawalpindi was the climax of a so-called “long march” by Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party to press the government to call a snap election before parliament’s term expires in October next year.
Despite being ousted in a no-confidence vote in April, Mr Khan insists that he will emerge victorious if an early vote is called.
Mr Khan survived an assassination attempt on November 3, when a gunman opened fire from close range as Mr Khan’s open truck made its way through a crowded street.
The former cricketer repeated accusations that his successor Shehbaz Sharif, Rana Sanaullah, the interior minister; and Major General Faisal Naseer had orchestrated the assassination bid, saying “three criminals” were planning to make another attempt on his life.
Security was high at the rally, where Mr Khan was surrounded by bullet-proof glass and a crush of bodyguards. Most of the crowd was kept hundreds of metres from the stage by a cordon of police and coils of razor wire.
Snipers were positioned on rooftops, buildings around the rally site were searched overnight, and mobile phone signals were jammed in the vicinity.
“We could have created a situation like Sri Lanka and I am trying my best not to spread anarchy during this economic meltdown,” he said. “Today I am making the decision that we will not go to Islamabad but I have decided not to be part of this system.”
In May, protests by his supporters spiralled into 24 hours of chaos, with the capital blockaded and running clashes across Pakistan between police and protesters.
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