|Imran Khan leads protest march against terror drones||
Pakistani cricketer turned politician Imran Khan led Western activists and thousands of supporters Saturday on the protest march to the tribal belt to protest against U.S. drone strikes, AFP reported.
Crowds lined the road to greet Khan, and scrums of media and well-wishers thronged his 4X4 as the convoy of more than 100 vehicles embarked on the 440-kilometre (270-mile) drive from Islamabad to South Waziristan.
But as Saturday wore on, it appeared increasingly unlikely the protesters would be allowed to reach their destination, considered a Taliban stronghold, and often called the most dangerous place on earth.
The government says the Taliban plan to attack the rally, authorities told AFP it was not safe for Khan to enter the semi-autonomous tribal belt and television broadcast footage of shipping containers closing the road into South Waziristan.
"I condemn the hypocrisy of the government, who tried their best to make this march fail," Khan told around 5,000 supporters at a brief halt on the outskirts of the Punjab town of Mianwali, his former parliamentary seat.
"They are saying that Taliban have sent nine suicide attackers. If (President Asif Ali) Zardari sends even a 100 suicide attackers this march will not stop," added Khan, who leads the Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) or Movement for Justice party.
Missiles fired by U.S. drones routinely target militants in the semi-autonomous area in what U.S. officials say is a key weapon in the war on terror.
Peace campaigners condemn the strikes as a violation of international law, Pakistanis as a violation of sovereignty that breeds extremism, and politicians including Khan as a sign of a government complicit in killing its own people.
Khan, who is hoping to win a landslide victory in general elections next year, has made opposition to the drone program a key plank of PTI policy.
And while Khan is a growing political force, challenging feudal and industrial elites who traditionally dominate in Pakistan.
Former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who defected from the main ruling party to PTI this year, insisted the march would not be a failure if the authorities stopped it from reaching Waziristan.
"The point is it's symbolic," he said.
"The government is saying we are against drones. The people are saying they are against drones. What are they afraid of? Why are they blocking us?"
Khan is accompanied by around 30 U.S. campaigners from the group Code Pink and the British head of legal lobby organization Reprieve, Clive Stafford Smith.
Akhtar Syal, 63, from Sargodha in Punjab, told AFP he had joined the protest because drones were destroying lives and that he was ready to die for the cause.
"It is a great thing that Imran Khan has raised his voice against it, so I am going to make his voice stronger and join him," he said.
"I am ready to die over there. If our brothers are being killed I will happily accept it."
Although leaked U.S. cables have revealed tacit support for the drone strikes from Pakistan's military and civilian leaders, Islamabad has increasingly condemned the program as relations with Washington have deteriorated.
A report commissioned by Reprieve last month said casualty figures are difficult to obtain but estimated that 474 to 881 civilians were among 2,562 to 3,325 people killed by drones in Pakistan between June 2004 and September 2012.
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