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ISLAMABAD: Police warned Sunday they would come down hard on illegal gatherings after the party of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan urged supporters to protest against alleged rigging in last week’s election.

Independent candidates — most linked to Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party — took the most seats in the polls, scuppering the chances of the army-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to win a ruling majority.

However, independents cannot form a government and the country faces weeks of political uncertainty as rival parties negotiate possible coalitions.

PTI leaders claim they would have won even more seats if not for vote rigging.

A nationwide election-day mobile telephone blackout and the slow counting of results led to suspicions the military establishment was influencing the process to ensure success for former premier Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N.

“Throughout Pakistan, elections were manipulated in a subtle way,” PTI chairman Gohar Ali Khan told a news conference Saturday, calling on supporters to “protest peacefully” on Sunday.

Authorities warned they would take strict action, saying so-called Section 144 orders were in place — a colonial-era law banning public gatherings.

“Some individuals are inciting illegal gatherings around the Election Commission and other government offices,” a statement from Islamabad’s police force said on Sunday.

“Legal action will be taken against unlawful assemblies. It should be noted that soliciting for gatherings is also a crime.”

A similar warning was also issued in the city of Rawalpindi, just south of the capital, while dozens of police equipped with riot gear assembled near Liberty Market in Lahore in the east.

AFP correspondents saw several small protests by PTI and other parties across the country — most no bigger than a few hundred people — but by Sunday afternoon they were without incident.

Imran Khan’s party defied a months-long crackdown, which crippled campaigning and forced candidates to run as independents, to emerge as the winners of Thursday’s vote.

Final results were announced Sunday, with independents winning 101 seats, PML-N 75, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) 54, and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) 17.

Ten minor parties mopped up the remaining 17 seats, with two remaining vacant.

“The results have clearly indicated that no single party possesses a simple majority to establish a government,” said Zahid Hussain, a political analyst and author.

“The political future of the country from this point onward is highly uncertain.”

Still, PTI leaders insist they have been given a “people’s mandate” to form the next government.

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