Imran Khan's Pakistan anti-drone rally heads for Tank: Most dangerous place on earth

Giant convoy to press on towards tribal belt

Cricketer turned politician Imran Khan and his followers bypassed road blocks to press towards Pakistan's tribal belt Sunday to protest against US drone strikes, defying official warnings.

Khan led at least 1,000 supporters and dozens of Western peace activists to Tank, the last town before the semi-autonomous area where the Taliban and Al Qaeda have strongholds and often called the most dangerous place on Earth.

Authorities say they will not be allowed to enter the tribal belt -- where missiles fired by US drones routinely target militants -- for security reasons and blocked the road to Tank with shipping containers.

But for reasons that were not immediately clear police removed the containers, allowing the convoy -- which appears to be smaller than the size initially predicted by organisers -- to approach Tank.

"It's our right to go to our people," said student Fakhruddin Shinwari, accusing the Pakistani government of trying to hide the real situation in the tribal belt.

"There's no security risk. The main factor is if Imran Khan goes to Waziristan the real situation made by the United States and Pakistan will be seen. There are no terrorists there -- it will be shown to be a lie."

There was a heavy security presence along the road to Tank, which a senior police officer had said earlier was not safe and targeted by roadside bombings

Khan, who heads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) or Movement for Justice party, earlier on Sunday urged activists to remain peaceful and to seek no confrontation with the authorities.

"We are already successful in our mission," he told the crowd. "Your voice has reached the world over."

Medea Benjamin, leader of a delegation from the US peace group CodePink, apologised for the drone attacks, saying: "We are so grateful that you understand there are Americans in solidarity with you and against our g overnment policy."

PTI plans to proceed to the village of Kotkai in South Waziristan, notorious as a place where Taliban commander Qari Hussain -- said to have been killed by a drone missile in 2010 -- used to train suicide bombers.

Clive Stafford Smith, the British head of the legal lobby group Reprieve, said that whether or not the group reached its intended destination was irrelevant.

"It's already a wonderful success," he told reporters. "It doesn't matter what happens from here on. We've generated a huge amount of publicity not just in Pakistan but across the world."

Khan, who is campaigning ahead of general elections next year, has made opposition to the drone programme a key plank of PTI policy.

Critics accuse him of merely trying to further his own career and of ignoring both atrocities blamed on Islamist militants and abuses by the Pakistani army.

While he is a growing political force, challenging feudal and industrial elites who traditionally dominate in Pakistan, there is huge scepticism about his ability to translate popularity into parliamentary seats.

Kifayetullah, the political commissioner of Dera Ismail Khan who uses one name, told AFP Saturday that it was "out of the question" that the protesters would be allowed to enter Waziristan because of security fears.

Although leaked US cables have revealed tacit support for the drone strikes from Pakistan's military and civilian leaders, Islamabad has increasingly condemned the programme as relations with Washington have deteriorated.

Casualty figures are difficult to obtain but a report commissioned by Reprieve estimated last month that 474 to 881 civilians were among 2,562 to 3,325 people killed by drones in Pakistan between June 2004 and September 2012.

Imran Khan's Pakistan anti-drone drive halted for the night, but was set to continue today despite militant threats.

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