Pakistani politician Imran Khan was being treated for a head injury, three fractured vertebrae and a fractured rib yesterday after falling at an election rally, the latest dramatic turn in a campaign that has seen more than 100 people killed in attacks.
TV footage showed Khan, leader of the Pakistan Movement for Justice party (PTI), bleeding from the head after tumbling from a makeshift lift transporting him onto a stage in the city of Lahore.
However, in a televised statement from his hospital bed shortly after, the former cricket star urged people to vote for his party in Saturday’s polls.
“I did whatever I could for this country. Now remember 11th May, come out and vote for PTI without considering its candidates, just vote for PTI,” he said, wearing a neck brace and speaking in a weak voice.
His accident came at the end of a day that saw 18 people killed and dozens wounded in bomb attacks in northwest Pakistan ahead of the general election.
In another attack yesterday, one woman was killed and 15 people wounded when a suicide bomber crashed his explosives-packed car into a barrier outside a police station in the troubled northwest.
The poll will mark a democratic milestone in a country ruled for half its history by the military, as the first time a civilian government has served a full term and handed over to another through the ballot box.
Khan, who won only one seat in 2002 and boycotted polls in 2008, has led an electric campaign, galvanizing the middle class and young people in what he has called a “tsunami” of support that will propel him into office.
The 60-year-old, who has undertaken a punishing schedule of daily rallies, but who is known for his physical fitness, fell from an overcrowded lift platform at the election rally, along with several of his staff.
Witness Raza Zaidi said that Khan was being lifted on a crane with five people, but lost his balance and fell when a sixth one tried to climb up. He hit the lift before falling on the ground.
“Imran Khan has one head injury. We are conducting his CT scan and other tests. He is stable, he is conscious and he is recognizing people. He is all right,” Shaukat Khanum hospital director Faisal Sultan told reporters.
PTI spokeswoman Shirin Mazari said Khan injured his forehead after falling from a height of more than 2m. TV images showed him being transported on a stretcher, his head swathed in bandages.
Supporters at the rally venue, where thousands had gathered, expressed their concern after the fall.
“Passion and love for Imran Khan brought all these people here. We are still here, all we can do is pray now,” said Sobia Khan, a PTI supporter.
Party officials had initially said he would be back to address the rally, but he was later transferred from a small private hospital to the Shaukat Khanum cancer hospital he set up in honor of his mother.
Hundreds of well-wishers and party supporters gathered outside the hospital, chanting: “Long Live Imran Khan.”
Khan’s main rival, former Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who is tipped to win the election, conveyed his sympathies, his Pakistan Muslim League-N party spokesman Siddiqul Farooq said.
Later, Sharif announced the cancellation of campaign activities yesterday.
Yesterday’s blast at the police station brings the number of deaths in attacks on politicians and political parties since the middle of last month to 111, according to an Agence France-Presse tally.