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Pakistan's Imran Khan gives way to the poor, vows a radical change in the election campaign



LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan promised on Sunday to come to power in the upcoming elections and promises a radical change for the poor at a launch rally in the city of Lahore based on the disempowered PM Nawaz Sharif ,

FILE PHOTO: Opposition leader Imran Khan speaks at a celebratory rally with supporters after the Supreme Court disqualified Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on July 30, 201
7 in Islamabad, Pakistan. REUTERS / Faisal Mahmood / File Photo

With the red-brick minarets of Lahore's Moghul Badshahi Mosque in sight, Khan outlined a populist 11-point plan to usher in a new era of prosperity he would face after parliamentary elections Pakistan, where he hopes to become prime minister.

"Today we are at a crossroads," said Khan, a former cricketing hero and founder of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

"It's time to change our destiny and think big."

Khan told a boisterous crowd of about 100,000 people that Pakistan was "on the way to destruction," but his plan would help forge a more just society and move Pakistan towards the path of the nation's first father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the eye.

Khan said that if he were elected, he would build schools and "world-class hospitals" across the country, while the peasants would get cheap loans. He also promised to build 5 million homes for the poor, creating jobs and boosting the economy.

Having spent much of his post-Cricket political career on the brink of crisis, Khan has emerged in recent years as a key challenger to Sharif, a threefold prime minister who was ousted by the Supreme Court last year, but his party's power reserves.

Sharif's legal issues, which the senior leader says are politically motivated, could further strengthen Khan ahead of the election, as an anti-corruption court will soon pass judgment on another Sharif trial. Khan predicted that Sharif would probably be detained in July before the polls.

Khan, who has attempted to shed his playboy image of the past, insists that his anti-corruption message, coupled with anti-American rhetoric and a showy image of devout devotion, will bring him to power in the deeply conservative Muslims Nation of 208 million people.

In Lahore, Khan's message was well received by many of the band-wearing young men waving PTI's green and red flags.

"Imran Khan has given us the slogan" New Pakistan, "and we want that," said Shahzad Khan, 17, referring to PTI's slogan "Naya Pakistan."

Sharif accuses Khan of being a puppet of the powerful military establishment that interfered with Pakistani politics. Khan denies cooperation with the army and the military denies interfere with modern politics.

WEAK GRIP

To expel Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, Khan's PTI will have to make headway in Pakistan's largest province, where 110 million people and a well-oiled PML-N live voting machine built several decades ago.

Sharif was the Prime Minister of Punjab in the 1980s, and his younger brother Shahbaz ruled the province since 2008, consolidating PML-N support in Pakistan's richest provinces.

"We feel weakened every day," Khan said before the rally.

He added that unlike in 2013, when PML-N came to power, this time around many of the so-called "electables" – politicians who carry large rural election banks due to their status as tribal elders, feudal lords and heads of different Clans – will change the affiliation of PML-N to PTI.

"The Elecables … weigh things, they want to be on the winning side," Khan told foreign media.

But at the Lahore rally, Khan avoided talking about choices and focused on promising the poor of Pakistan a new departure.

"This system can not run unless we get up with the oppressed," he said. "I'm with you, it's time to make new Pakistan."

Additional coverage by Syed Raza Hassan in KARACHI; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Adaptation by Matthew Mpoke Bigg


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