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Imran Khan on bed rest as Pakistan vote campaign halts

Supporters of Pakistani politician Imran Khan place flowers outside a hospital in Lahore on May 8, 2013
Supporters of Pakistani politician and former cricketer Imran Khan place flowers outside a hospital where Khan is recuperating in Lahore on May 8, 2013. Doctors on Wednesday ordered Pakistani politician Imran Khan to rest in bed until further notice, jeop

Doctors on Wednesday ordered Pakistani politician Imran Khan to rest in bed until further notice, jeopardising the final days of his election campaign as his party sought to capitalise on a sympathy vote.

The man tipped to win Saturday's polls, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, suspended campaigning on Wednesday in honour of Khan, whom aides say will still address a final election rally on Thursday, even if it has to be from hospital.

The retired cricket star and head of the Pakistan Movement for Justice (PTI) party suffered head and back injuries on Tuesday night when he fell from a forklift truck raising him onto a platform at a campaign rally.

Imran Khan injured
Graphic locating Lahore in Pakistan where politician and former cricketer Imran Khan was rushed to hospital with head injuries Tuesday after falling off a makeshift lift at an election rally.

Television footage aired Wednesday showed him flat on his back in hospital, wearing a neck brace, and looking pale and groggy after his fall in the city of Lahore.

Doctors have advised at least two days' rest to recover from injuries to his scalp, vertebrae and one rib, although they are not life-threatening.

A television statement given from his bed overnight, in which the 60-year-old former cricket captain urged people to vote for his party, has since been re-released as a "paid content" advertisement for his PTI party.

"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 weakly.

"Mr Khan has been advised bed rest for the next one or two days and after that doctors will review his condition and decide accordingly," Doctor Faisal Sultan, the head of the private Shaukat Khanum hospital, told reporters.

"The exact duration of how long he will require bed rest or immobilisation will be decided as time goes on," he added, speaking in English.

A Dunya News TV grab shows injured Pakistani politician Imran Khan in a hospital in Lahore on May 7, 2013
A Dunya News TV grab shows injured Pakistani politician Imran Khan in a hospital in Lahore on May 7, 2013.

Khan's spinal canal is intact and "he is in total control of all limbs and body functions," the doctor said.

Senior party official Shah Mehmood Qureshi said PTI's campaign finale -- a rally outside parliament in Islamabad -- would go ahead as planned on Thursday evening.

"Wherever he is, in any condition, even from the ICU (intensive care unit) he will address the nation in the last moments of the campaign," Qureshi said.

It remains unclear whether Khan's injuries will affect his performance at the polls, with most commentators expecting him to do well enough to become a strong opposition but not to form a government.

Pakistani policemen stand guard under a bridge in Karachi on May 8, 2013
Pakistani policemen stand guard under a bridge in Karachi on May 8, 2013.

Saturday's vote 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 has only ever won one seat, led an electric campaign until his fall, galvanising the middle class and young people in what he has called a "tsunami" of support that will propel him into office.

There were initial suggestions that Khan's condition had aroused sympathy. When former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed on the campaign trail in 2007, her Pakistan People's Party (PPP) swept to power on the back of the tragedy.

"Definitely in Pakistan people get very sympathetic when things like this happen. We expect to see a five to 10 percent increase in our support at least," said Salman Malik, a PTI worker campaigning in the Punjab town of Narowal.

Haseeb Asif, 27, a writer in the same town, said Khan's fall had not swayed his own vote but predicted it might do for that others.

"The fact that Imran Khan had a primetime speech from his bedside, that's very powerful," he told AFP.

"I wasn't voting for PTI before. I haven't changed my mind but I can see how other people would."

Sharif, a millionaire steel tycoon, won praise for suspending his campaign and joined other political leaders from across the spectrum to convey his sympathies.

Khan's fall was the latest dramatic twist to an election campaign that has been overshadowed by a series of attacks on politicians and political parties which have killed 111 people since mid-April, according to an AFP tally.

The Pakistani Taliban have condemned the polls as un-Islamic and directly threatened the outgoing secular PPP and its main coalition partners, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Awami National Party.

On Wednesday, a suicide bomber killed three people and wounded 23 others outside a police station in the northwestern district of Bannu, police said.

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