Pakistan cleric announces march to topple government

Lahore (Pakistan) (AFP) - A populist Pakistani cleric on Sunday announced a march on Islamabad to overthrow the government, hours after being charged with murder for the death of a policeman allegedly injured in clashes with his supporters.

Tahir-ul-Qadri said he will take to the streets on the same day that opposition leader Imran Khan will hold a rally in the capital aiming to force the government to step down and hold a fresh election.

Both protest rallies will be held on Thursday when Pakistan celebrates its independence day.

"Our march will begin on August 14," Qadri told thousands of his supporters in a fiery speech in eastern city of Lahore, saying he would "struggle" along with Khan to topple the government.

"We would struggle together and would end the kingdom of cruelty," he said.

A spokesman for the cleric said he "will lead hundreds of thousands of people either on August 13 or morning of August 14 and march on Islamabad".

Earlier police in Lahore said they had charged Qadri with murder after a constable, who was wounded in Lahore on Friday in confrontations with his followers, died of his injuries late Saturday.

"A case of murder, inciting violence and treason have been registered against Tahir-ul-Qadri and his supporters," senior police official Zulfiqar Hameed told AFP.

Police said the Canada-based cleric faced many other accusations of attempted murder as well as inciting his followers to attack police and commit terrorist acts.

Qadri rejected police accusations against him and claimed that the policeman of whom he was charged of murder, had died in a road accident.

Violence broke out on Friday after hundreds of the cleric's baton-wielding supporters tried to remove the shipping containers police had used to block the roads to his party headquarters in Lahore's upscale Model Town area.

The violence continued on Saturday, mainly in Lahore's Punjab province, with clashes between police and his supporters leaving two others dead including another police officer.

Shahid Mursaleen, a spokesman for Qadri, alleged eight of their workers have been killed in this week's clashes though officials place the figure at one.

- 'This revolution means change' -

Qadri, who commands tens of thousands of followers, returned to Pakistan in June to lead what he terms a "peaceful revolution", claiming the country's political system only benefits the elite.

After Saturday's renewed clashes, the cleric had asked his supporters to abandon a mass prayer procession due to be held in Lahore on Sunday for the victims of previous violence in June between his supporters and the police.

Despite his call, thousands of his followers including women and children gathered in Lahore in an open ground near his party headquarters, with hundreds of police surrounding the site and blocking roads with shipping containers.

Supporters including women and children vowed on Sunday to stay on for three days to participate in the planned march.

"Stay here until revolution, this revolution means change, we are struggling for the rule of law," Qadri told those gathered.

Qadri in June to lead what he terms a "peaceful revolution", claiming the country's political system only benefits the elite.

Police have arrested more than 500 of the cleric's supporters in the last three days, officials said -- though the group itself claims 15,000 have been detained.

Qadri held a disruptive four-day sit-in protest against the government in 2013 ahead of the election that saw Sharif come to power for a third time.

In Islamabad, police on Sunday placed shipping containers to block roads ahead of the march by Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, witnesses said.

Khan, who leads the third largest party in parliament, has long complained of massive rigging in the 2013 general election which saw the country's first transition of power from one civilian-led government to another.