From jail, Pakistan's Imran Khan asks supporters to wait by poll stations after vote

Credit: REUTERS/AKHTAR SOOMRO

By Charlotte Greenfield and Asif Shahzad

ISLAMABAD, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Jailed former Pakistani premier Imran Khan urged his supporters on Wednesday to wait outside polling booths after casting their votes, as rival political parties held large rallies to mark the end of the election campaign period.

Pakistan goes to the polls on Thursday with the jailing of popular Khan, the winner of the last national election, dominating headlines despite an economic crisis and other woes threatening the nuclear-armed country.

Any large-scale gathering of Khan's supporters near booths could raise tensions because of what they call a military-backed crackdown on him and his party that has restricted campaigning. The military denies interfering in politics.

"Encourage the maximum number of people to vote, wait at the polling station...and then stay peacefully outside the Returning Officer's office until the final results are announced," said Khan via his handle on social media platform X, accompanied by an undated photograph depicting him wearing simple black clothing.

The origin of the image, the first of Khan in months, was not clear. Previously Khan's supporters have disseminated his messages, including through AI-generated audio speeches, from notes he has passed on through his lawyers during prison visits.

Other political parties wrapped up their campaigns late on Tuesday ahead of the quiet period mandated by Pakistani electoral rules that prevent political campaigning the day before the election.

Electoral frontrunner Nawaz Sharif led a huge rally in the eastern city of Kasur, with his brother, former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who is running in that constituency.

Amidst a sea of tens of thousands of supporters waving green party flags, Sharif called on the country's huge youth population to support his party and took aim at Khan who has previously attracted support from young voters in the area.

"Don't fall for him," Sharif said.

Supporters of the rival Pakistan People's Party also gathered in the southern city of Larkana led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who could play king-maker if no one party receives enough parliamentary seats to form a government outright.

The former foreign minister and son of assassinated prime minister Benazir Bhutto criticised opponents, including Sharif, for what he described as compromising the country's security and economy during their tenures.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Asif Shahzad; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

((charlotte.greenfield@thomsonreuters.com; +92 300 856 6702; Reuters Messaging: charlotte.greenfield.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

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