Asia

Pakistan protest: Qadri supporters end Islamabad sit-in

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Media captionAmber Shamsi reports from Tahirul Qadri's protest site in Islamabad

Supporters of a leading anti-government cleric in Pakistan are ending a two-month sit-in in Islamabad after failing to force PM Nawaz Sharif to resign.

Tahirul Qadri said his party was taking the protest to other cities instead.

He launched his campaign in August, saying he wanted revolutionary change in how Pakistan was run.

Another opposition leader, former cricketer Imran Khan, said his supporters would keep protesting in the capital until Mr Sharif stepped down.

Mr Qadri has provided the bulk of the crowds in Islamabad but numbers have been thinning since September.

Imran Khan has already expanded his protest by holding huge anti-government rallies in Karachi and other major cities of Punjab province.

Struggling to sustain his sit-in, it seems Mr Qadri had little choice but to follow suit, the BBC's Shahzeb Jillani reports.


At the scene: M Ilyas Khan, BBC News, Islamabad

They are packing up and leaving Constitution Avenue, but many feel it will take them a day or two to clear out. There are more than 1,500 tents to be folded and shipped back to the Lahore city offices of Tahirul Qadri's Minhaj Welfare Foundation, and hundreds of rented chairs to be returned.

Police numbers have thinned as the crowds have dwindled - now dozens of workers are getting ready to clear the tonnes of rubbish that have accumulated in central Islamabad over the past 70 days. A huge crane is loading shipping containers - used to block roads - back on to waiting trucks.

Most protesters say Mr Qadri's announcement to end the sit-in came as a surprise, and many were disappointed, not just because they were going back without toppling the government, but also because the revolution they believed was in the air has receded.

In the longer term, although the sit-in could not oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, many feel it did dent the image that his government had as a popular one in control of its affairs.


Image copyright Wietske Burema/BBC
Image caption Qadri supporters have been camped in central Islamabad since mid-August
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Tahirul Qadri says his party will continue protests around the country

There were emotional scenes at Mr Qadri's sit-in on Tuesday night after he asked his followers to pack up and leave the capital.

"I advise all supporters that they continue to work hard to spread the revolutionary movement around the country," he said, adding that they had achieved their aim.

Dejected by the announcement, many of his supporters were seen weeping and consoling each other.

They had arrived in Islamabad hoping to overthrow what their leader says is a flawed political system and bring about a revolution.

But in the end, they were being asked to go home without having achieved any of their objectives, our correspondent says.

Mr Qadri's aides insist he is not giving up the fight - just changing tactics.

One of his supporters, Naveed Ahmed from the UK, told the BBC: "If I say that we wanted a sudden result, in that way yes, it's a bit sad. But on the other hand the revolution is not like a one-day process - it takes time."

Fellow supporter Farhat Khan said she thought it had been for a good cause.

"Now that we are leaving I am a bit glum," she told the Associated Press news agency. "We've had good co-ordination among people who were here from different cities. We all came together to represent Pakistan as one nation."

Image copyright Wietske Burema/BBC
Image caption There are few Imran Khan supporters left at the protest

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