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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - The audio, played over a photograph of Imran Khan during an internet rally of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, drew more than 1.4 million views streamed on YouTube and attended live by tens of thousands on other social media. — Reuters pic
ISLAMABAD, Dec 18 — Pakistan's jailed former prime minister, Imran Khan, used an audio clip generated by artificial intelligence (AI) to address supporters in the first event of its kind in the politics of the South Asian nation, though marred by internet disruptions.
The audio, played over a photograph of Khan during an internet rally of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, drew more than 1.4 million views streamed on YouTube and attended live by tens of thousands on other social media.
"Our party is not allowed to hold public rallies," Khan said in the speech, urging supporters to turn out in large numbers at general elections set for Feb 8. "Our people are being kidnapped and their families are being harassed."
The disruptions to livestreaming fuelled transparency concerns about the upcoming elections, however, with users nationwide complaining of slow internet speeds and throttling, a technique telecoms regulators use to choke streaming on apps.
Pakistan's telecoms regulator said the interruptions were being investigated, but added that internet accessibility overall appeared to be normal.
Khan's speech was generated from a written version he had approved from prison, said officials of his party, which staged the event because it faces a state-backed crackdown on physical gatherings, while its leader is blacked out of media.
Murtaza Solangi, information minister in Pakistan's caretaker government assigned to supervise the elections which has been suspected of favouring Khan's opponents, did not respond to a Reuters request for a comment.
Jailed since he was convicted and sentenced to three years on graft charges on Aug. 5, Khan is embroiled in dozens of court cases, with some trials held in prison behind closed doors, which legal experts say infringes the right to fair proceedings.
A political crisis has swirled around the 71-year-old former cricket star since his ouster last year in a vote of confidence in parliament. The party crackdown followed a May assault on military sites by supporters protesting his brief arrest.
Khan won the last general election in 2018, a victory his opponents say was achieved with help from the military, which often plays an outsized role in making and breaking governments in Pakistan.
He too blames his removal on the military, after a falling- out with generals over the appointment of the chief of Pakistan's main spy agency, although the military denies supporting or ousting him. — Reuters
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