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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

Ousted Pakistan prime minister starts defiant 'caravan' from Islamabad to Lahore

It comes despite the concerns of close advisers about security for Nawaz Sharif himself and the crowds he is expected to draw

Prime minister Nawaz Sharif's convoy leaves Islamabad on August 9, 2017. BK Bangash / AP
Prime minister Nawaz Sharif's convoy leaves Islamabad on August 9, 2017. BK Bangash / AP

Ousted Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif began a rally on Wednesday in a defiant show of political power after a supreme court decision disqualified him from office late last month over undeclared assets.

Mr Sharif launched the "caravan" from Islamabad to his eastern hometown of Lahore, despite the concerns of close advisers about security for himself and the crowds he is expected to draw.

Thousands of Sharif supporters thronged the capital to join in the rally, setting up camps along the route the former prime minister is expected to take.

"Nawaz Sharif is still our prime minister," said worker Niaz Ahmad, who wore a lion costume, and chanted, "Lion, Lion!" referring to the election symbol of Mr Sharif's political party.

Mr Sharif, 67, resigned during his third stint as prime minister after the supreme court ruled on July 28 that he should be disqualified. The court also ordered a criminal investigation into his family over allegations stemming from the "Panama Papers" leaks of international offshore companies.

Pakistan's new prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a close Sharif ally, said the former leader was alert to security threats.

"The bigger a leader is, the bigger the threat is," Mr Abbasi told domestic Geo TV.

Mr Sharif was seen off in Islamabad by Mr Abbasi, along with the new cabinet and other party officials, Mr Sharif's political adviser Asif Kirmani said.

"We really don't know how long it (the caravan) will take, how many days, we have no idea," Mr Kirmani added.

He said a huge number of people were waiting for Mr Sharif along the Grand Trunk Road linking the capital, Islamabad, with Lahore, a distance of about 380 kilometres.

Mr Sharif, in recent meetings with party leaders, lawyers and the media, has expressed his displeasure over the court ruling.

He said no corruption charges had been proved, and that it was unfair to disqualify him on the grounds of not having declared a salary from his son's Dubai-based company among a list of assets submitted ahead of the 2013 elections that brought him to power.

Mr Sharif's ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, which has a solid majority in parliament, elected Mr Abbasi as his replacement within four days.

Party leaders have recently suggested that the new prime minister is expected to hold office until elections due next year, a reversal of earlier indications that Mr Sharif's younger brother, Shahbaz, would take over the office.

Mr Shahbaz is now likely to replace his brother as party chief, since the ousted prime minister can no longer lead a political party, as Pakistani law bars such roles for any convicted or disqualified person.