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Originally published Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 7:54 PM

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Rising Pakistan politician hospitalized after fall at rally

Injured during a fall while campaigning, former cricket star turned politician Imram Khan has added a dramatic finale to the country’s general elections on Saturday.

The New York Times

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ISLAMABAD — Imran Khan, the Pakistani sports star who has emerged as a rising force in the country’s politics, was seriously injured when he tumbled from a mechanical lift at an election rally on Tuesday.

Khan, 60, was rushed to the hospital, where he was treated for head wounds and back injuries, doctors said, effectively putting an end to his campaigning just days before the general elections on Saturday.

The fall, which was captured on live television, offered a dramatic finale to a closely fought election campaign that has been marred by Taliban attacks on secular parties. In the latest violence, bombs killed 18 people at two election events in the northwest on Tuesday.

Khan’s main electoral rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, canceled his rallies scheduled for Wednesday, the last day of campaigning, in solidarity with Khan.

Video footage from a rally in Lahore showed Khan falling about 15 feet to the ground, head first, after supporters standing alongside him apparently overbalanced as a forklift hoisted them onto the stage.

Supporters took Khan, who was bloodied and unconscious, to the hospital, where he received stitches for his head wounds. Doctors said he had also suffered two small fractures to his backbone.

The accident did not deter Khan from speaking. In an interview from his hospital bed with Dunya television late Tuesday, he said he was determined to “change the destiny of our children.”

“You have to decide if you want to live like this, or whether you want a new Pakistan,” he said, draped in a blue hospital gown with his neck supported by a neck brace.

Supporters crowded outside the hospital, which Khan himself had built in honor of his dead mother, chanting “Long Live Imran Khan.” Social media — including Twitter, which played a role in building Khan’s support among young Pakistanis — lit up with expressions of sympathy.

Najam Sethi, the caretaker prime minister of Punjab province, said he expected that Khan would make a full recovery. “Imran had a small hairline fracture, which is not serious,” he told Geo television.

As a former cricket captain who led Pakistan to a World Cup victory in 1992, and a man whose rugged looks earned him sex-symbol status, Khan has long been a national hero. But his foray into national politics has been a roller-coaster ride: He burst onto the scene with a series of anti-corruption rallies in 2011, then fell out of favor with many supporters, only to rise again in this campaign.

In recent weeks, his nonstop campaigning, in which he has vowed to sweep out corruption and old-style patronage politics, has electrified the public. He has emerged as a potent competitor to Sharif, who is a favorite to emerge as the next prime minister, with both men battling for votes in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.

But analysts say the vote is difficult to predict, and with no party likely to emerge as the overall victor, a coalition government is the most likely outcome.

Khan’s success will depend partly on his ability to mobilize new voters, and Tuesday’s accident may earn him sympathy. The progress of his medical treatment is also likely to keep him in the headlines over the coming days.

Bombs at campaign events kill at least 18

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Bomb blasts tore through two campaign events in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, killing at least 18 people, authorities said, as attacks ahead of Saturday’s national election continued against liberal politicians as well as a pro-Taliban Islamist party.

About 100 people have been killed since April in violence against candidates and party supporters, according to mediatallies.

Victims now include supporters of a prominent right-wing cleric and parliamentarian, Fazlur Rehman, whose party has sought favor with extremists over the years but also joined coalitions with secular parties.

Rallies for candidates under the banner of Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F party were bombed on Monday and Tuesday, with a collective toll of more than 30 dead and scores more wounded. The Pakistani Taliban, which is fighting to topple the state, denied responsibility for Tuesday’s blast in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and said Monday’s attack in the Kurram tribal region was not aimed at Rehman’s party at large but an old foe who had only recently joined it.

The military says it will deploy 70,000 troops to protect polling stations, augmenting more than 500,000 police and security personnel.

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