Two massive protest motorcades made up of vehicles packed with hundreds of thousands of opposition supporters are slowly making their way from Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, to its capital, Islamabad, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and calling for new elections.
At the capital, where more than 20,000 police and paramilitary officers are waiting for the protesters, violent clashes are a distinct possibility.
The demonstrators are calling it the Azadi March (Azadi means “freedom” in Urdu) as it falls on the country’s independence day. One column of the protest is made up of supporters of the opposition politician and former cricket star Imran Khan, and of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice). In a parallel procession, followers of the controversial cleric and opposition politician Dr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri are also making their way to Islamabad.
Both Khan and Qadri claim that the May 2013 general election that brought Sharif to power for a third time was rigged, and say the government in Islamabad is mired in corruption.
The motorcade is passing 11 cities en route, where it has been met by thousands of cheering people and more cars are joining the procession.
Last week, in anticipation of the coming flood of protesters, the government banned gatherings of more than four people and said it would stop any large-scale protests. By late yesterday afternoon, Islamabad was at a standstill. No one was allowed to enter the city, and a main road outside the capital was blocked by shipping containers.
The protest motorcade is expected to reach Islamabad tomorrow morning (Aug. 15) Pakistan time, so later today US time. For now, the mood is jovial, judging by social media updates from protesters. But at that point, the situation could turn far more volatile.
You can follow live updates of the convoy here.