Imran Khan's Pakistan drone march stops at tribal belt

The BBC's Aleem Macqbool says Imran Khan's supporters have got round government roadblocks

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A thousands-strong motorcade rally against US drone strikes in Pakistan led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan has been stopped from entering restive tribal regions.

After negotiations near the frontier, Mr Khan turned back and decided to hold a rally in the nearby town of Tank.

But he said he still intended to reached his intended final destination, in South Waziristan.

The authorities have barred him from the region, citing security concerns.

Mr Khan wants to visit the area where drone attacks have long targeted militants, but the militants dismiss the former cricket star as a tool of the West.

He set off with a few hundred people from the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Saturday, gathering support along the way.

Footage broadcast on Pakistani TV on Saturday showed people showering rose petals on the motorcade of some 150 vehicles.

Like many Pakistanis, he argues that attacks from unmanned aircraft kill large numbers of civilians and foster support for militants.

US officials insist strikes by the unmanned aircraft rarely claim civilian casualties and are an effective weapon against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

About 80 Western peace activists are in the motorcade.

'Here for peace'

The "march" left the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan on Sunday morning.

Mr Khan had planned to travel the final 120km (70 miles) on from Dera Ismail Khan to Kotkai in South Waziristan on Sunday.

Drones in Pakistan

map
  • Recent US report highlighted "terror" felt by civilians in north-west Pakistan, where drones target areas such North and South Waziristan
  • Hundreds of low-level militant commanders and substantial minority of civilians killed
  • Exact figures difficult to compile because independent media and researchers denied access to area by authorities
  • Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates 2,570-3,337 people killed in drone strikes, of which 474-884 were civilians
  • Living Under Drones report says top commanders account for estimated 2% of victims

But the motorcade was stopped several miles from the frontier by security forces.

Initial reports said the army had been prepared to allow them through, but they eventually turned back to Tank, the nearest major town.

Before his convoy left Dera Ismail Khan, he told supporters they had already achieved their aim.

"The whole world has heard your voice," he said.

"A majority of people in the world as well as international newspapers have condemned the drone attacks.

"The message that our government and our rulers could not get to the world, has now been spread worldwide."

Kifayetullah, the commissioner of Dera Ismail Khan who uses one name, told AFP news agency it was "out of the question" that the protesters would enter Waziristan.

"Security will be provided to the rally but roads beyond Dera Ismail Khan will be blocked because there are threats of IED, sniper and bomb attacks," he said.

"We have to protect the lives of everyone."

Earlier, the Taliban distributed leaflets in Dera Ismail Khan saying they would "welcome" the motorcade with bombs.

Before the march, Mr Khan told the BBC that he would authorise the shooting down of US drones over his country if he became its head of government because they violated Pakistan's sovereignty.

The government of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari says drone strikes are a violation of its sovereignty, but it has done nothing to stop them and many Pakistanis believe this amounts to tacit consent.

US President Barack Obama has insisted that the drone strategy is "kept on a very tight leash" and that without the attacks, the US would have had to resort to "more intrusive military action".

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