ISLAMABAD - Hours after the verdict of Election Commission that disqualified former prime minister Imran Khan from holding a parliament seat in the Toshakhana reference, the PTI chief asked his followers to call off protests countrywide and prepare for the long march. Speaking in a video message following a meeting of his party’s senior leadership in Bani Gala here yesterday, Khan announced that he was giving this advice to his followers because “people were in distress.” He warned that his protest would not end with the long march and would continue till the rule of law is ensured and the country gets “real independence.” He also announced that PTI would challenge the decision in the court and added that he would face his political opponents till the last. “I will soon give you a call and this would be the big¬gest ever protest in the coun¬try’s history and this protest movement will not stop now,” he said. Khan’s announcement to call off the protest is a sur¬prise for many as it was be¬ing expected that he would give a final call of his planned long march after the verdict of Election Commission of Paki¬stan (ECP) that has come as a major blow to his party. Earli¬er in the day, Khan had asked his workers and supporters to come on roads to protest against the verdict. The Chair¬man PTI while referring to the coalition government said that the “mafia” was trying to crush his party since it lost power in April this year. He alleged that Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sikandar Sultan Raja was part of this conspiracy against him and his party and he al¬ready knew that ECP would disqualify him. “All my par¬ty knows that I had informed them through WhatsApp mes-sages that he would disqualify me.” He deplored that the ma¬fia was trying to crush the only federal party — the PTI – while others have shrunk to region¬al parties. Khan lashed out at the Election Commission and CEC for giving the verdict that will open up legal proceedings against him for his alleged in¬volvement in corrupt practices.