Thousands of activists from Pakistan’s ruling party and opposition groups have descended on the capital, Islamabad, ahead of a parliamentary vote seeking to topple the government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Khan, under increasing political pressure, had urged supporters from across the country to gather on Sunday for a show of strength ahead of the crucial vote expected next week.
“It is a battle for the future of our nation,” the cricketer-turned-politician said in an audio message released on Twitter on Sunday.
Activists from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party started arriving in the early morning at the venue, a parade ground near the Faizabad Interchange, where people danced to party anthems and shouted slogans such as “long live Imran Khan”.
PTI leaders said they expected more than a million people to attend the rally, even though some say the venue cannot accommodate more than 30,000.
Addressing the rally on Sunday, Khan said that a “foreign conspiracy” was behind the no-confidence motion and that “funding was being channelled into Pakistan from abroad.
“We have been threatened in writing but we will not compromise on national interests,” he said, without providing details or evidence.
An alliance of opposition parties is accusing Khan’s government of rampant corruption and blamed him for mismanaging the country amid a growing economic crisis. Opposition supporters are also gathering in Islamabad ahead of planned anti-Khan protests on Monday.
Supporters of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party began a ”long march” on Saturday to the capital from the eastern city of Lahore, the political bastion of Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.
Thousands of activists from the conservative Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (F) party also took part in the march on Islamabad to join anti-government protests. Special security arrangements have been made for the rallies and about 13,000 personnel including paramilitary forces have been deployed in different parts of the city to prevent clashes.
The opposition is likely to table the motion of no confidence on Monday. After at least three days of debate, the vote can take place and must be held within seven days.