Pakistan Braces as Thousands Threaten March on 'Red Zone'

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Image: Supporters of Imran Khan, cricketer-turned-opposition politician and chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party, react while listening during the Freedom March in Islamabad
Supporters of Imran Khan, cricketer-turned-opposition politician and chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party, react while listening during the Freedom March in Islamabad August 18, 2014. Pakistan's opposition leader Imran Khan said on Monday he plans to lead demonstrations into the capital's central "Red Zone", a heavily protected area and home to major government offices and Western embassies.FAISAL MAHMOOD / Reuters

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - The capital of nuclear-armed Pakistan braced for possible clashes Tuesday after a top opposition leader and an Islamist cleric called on their followers to march on a fortified area housing government ministries and foreign embassies, including the American one. The government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said protesters are allowed to demonstrate but could not enter the so-called Red Zone of Islamabad. The government has been negotiating indirectly with Imran Khan and members of his Tahreek-e-Insaf party, and the Pakistan National Movement led by firebrand Pakistani-Canadian cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri. Khan, who has been trying to force Sharif's resignation and fresh elections, claimed that the march to the Red Zone would be “the march to end all marches,” but had not given the final go-ahead to his thousands of followers to try and breach the area's heavily fortified barriers. Meanwhile, pictures of Qadri and his followers getting ready to march into the zone were shown on live TV.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who is leading the government's effort to secure the Red Zone with over 20,000 police and paramilitary personnel, warned that the "Red Zone is a red line which cannot be breached if Pakistan is to be taken like a serious power on the world stage.” While Khan and Qadri have pledged respecting the Constitution and non-violence, government spokesperson Marvi Memon has told NBC that the "writ of the state will be maintained if the Red Zone is breached." She also promised security for diplomats.

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