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Pakistani cricket legend gains status as thousands attend rally

More than 100,000 people rallied in support of Pakistani cricket legend and opposition politician Imran Khan in the southern city of Karachi on Sunday, further cementing his status as a rising force in politics.

His message of cracking down on corruption and standing up to the United States has found new resonance at a time when Pakistanis are fed up with the country's chronic insecurity and economic malaise.

"I promise all you people that we'll create a new and respectable Pakistan that will never beg to anyone if you bring us in power," Khan told the cheering crowd as they enthusiastically waved the green, red and white flag of his party.

The 59-year-old Khan entered politics 15 years ago when he founded Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or the Movement for Justice Party, but has struggled to translate his fame into votes. His political fortunes shifted in October when he drew more than 100,000 people to a rally in the eastern city of Lahore.

Since then, Khan has attracted many politicians to his party, including several prominent figures.

"I came to support an honest politician who quit his lavish life for the betterment of downtrodden people," said 29-year-old Afghan Waqar at Sunday's rally.

Waqar said it was the first rally she has ever attended, a sign of Khan's ability to attract potential new voters who had all but given up on Pakistan's political system, which is widely viewed as corrupt and unresponsive to the needs of average Pakistanis.

National elections are not scheduled until 2013, but Khan and other oppositions have been pressing the government to hold earlier polls. He has been holding large rallies to build momentum and draw politicians to his party.

Javed Odho, a senior police officer, estimated there were 100,000 to 150,000 people in the crowd. The event was held outside Khan's traditional support base in Punjab province, where Lahore is the capital. Karachi is Pakistan's largest city and is the capital of Sindh province.

Khan's rising popularity could be a concern for the U.S., given his harsh criticism of the Pakistani government's cooperation with Washington in the fight against Islamist militants.

He has been especially critical of U.S. drone strikes targeting militants in Pakistan and has argued that the country's alliance with Washington is the main reason Pakistan is facing a homegrown Taliban insurgency.