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The final leg of the Long March

It was quiet here in Islamabad today. Eerily quiet. There was little traffic on the roads on Sunday (a day off), and other than a brief and small protest in the oldest market place, the  capital was calm.

Constitution Avenue, where marchers from all across the country plan to converge on Monday morning, was also barren except for the few hundred policemen and paramilitary soldiers who have been called in from all over the country. They all sat on the green on the deserted thoroughfare in front of the parliament building playing cards, chatting and resting before what is likely going to be a long day tomorrow.

Meanwhile, today the long march action reached Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city some 350 miles south of Islamabad. Lahore was the marchers' last stop before a final push on to the capital. The government had already pushed back the crowds from the southern provinces by blocking all north bound routes, so it was up to Lahore to produce the numbers for a successful march.

Heated action was expected as the crowds slowly started building in Lahore in the morning and as major political leaders were placed under house arrest.

And action there was.

All afternoon security forces clashed with marchers. There was tear gas, bleeding heads, baton charges. But by the evening it was obvious that security officials were outnumbered, ill prepared for the resilient throngs.

A few high ranking city police officials defected and joined the marchers in the late afternoon, and it suggested that the security forces were probably always half-hearted in their attempts to stop the marchers. By nightfall, as security forces withdrew, crowds began uprooting roadblocks and several thousand people, some on foot, others packed in buses and cars left the city limits triumphantly heading towards Islamabad.

Back on Constitution Avenue in Islamabad one police official who was part of the force called in from the Sindh province, the ruling party's strong hold, said he had no desire to confront the protestors. Though they're well armed in his ranks, there is little stomach for a fight with ordinary citizens, he said. "I just hope there's some quick solution to this — we all want the same thing — what's good for Pakistan," he said.

A quick solution, as some see it, would be for the Prime Minister, who is the head of the government, to pass an executive order reinstating the deposed Supreme Court chief justice. That could still happen tomorrow morning, but The Prime Minister  hasn't yet hinted at any intentions of doing that. His party boss, President Zardari is strongly opposed to the idea.

But many among the thousands who are on the highway between Lahore and Islamabad tonight are feeling confident that their numbers in Islamabad will convince the reluctant government to reinstall the "Chief." They plan to sit in on Constitution Avenue for as long as it takes.

A few young men holding the flag of the "Movement of Justice" party leaned on one another as the sun set, looking on as cranes moved large metal shipping containers to block off access to Constitution Avenue. "We've already started the sit in," one said with a sly smile. They didn't appear very perturbed by the site of hundreds of security officials and 12 foot high roadblocks. One of the young men said that there were enough bags of rice and bottled water in store to sustain the expected crowd for a week.