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Sport legend’s political star rises in Pakistan

KARACHI - More than 100,000 people rallied in support of Pakistani cricket legend and opposition politician Imran Khan in the southern city of Karachi yesterday, further cementing his status as a rising force in politics.

His message of cracking down on corruption and standing up to the United States has found new resonance at a time when Pakistanis are fed up with the country’s chronic insecurity and economic malaise.

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“I promise all you people that we’ll create a new and respectable Pakistan that will never beg to anyone if you bring us in power,’’ Khan told the cheering crowd as they enthusiastically waved the green, red, and white flags of his party.

Khan, 59, entered politics 15 years ago when he founded Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or the Movement for Justice Party, but has struggled to translate his fame into votes. His political fortunes shifted in October when he drew more than 100,000 people to a rally in the eastern city of Lahore.

Since then, Khan has attracted many politicians to his party, including several prominent figures.

One participant in the rally, Afghan Waqar, 29, said it was the first she has attended, a sign of Khan’s ability to attract new voters. Many Pakistanis have all but given up on the political system, which is widely viewed as corrupt and unresponsive to the needs of average people.

National elections are not scheduled until 2013, but Khan and other oppositions have been pressing the government to hold an earlier vote.

Javed Odho, a senior police officer, estimated there were 100,000 to 150,000 people in the crowd. The event was held outside Khan’s traditional support base in Punjab Province. Khan has been especially popular with the country’s urban middle class youth, and many of the people at the rally were young Pakistanis wearing Western-style clothing.

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