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Imran Khan: Pakistan Cricket Hero Turned Prime Minister

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Imran Khan: Pakistan Cricket Hero Turned Prime Minister: Imran Khan was catapulted to global fame as a World Cup cricket champion, but the man known in the West as a celebrity playboy has become prime minister of Pakistan as a populist, religiously devout, anti-corruption reformist.

Imran Khan: Pakistan Cricket Hero Turned Prime Minister

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The former national cricket captain was sworn in as leader of the nuclear-armed country of 207 million people on Saturday, coming to power as Pakistan faces challenges on multiple fronts.

His “New Pakistan” represents an end to decades of rotating leadership by the ousted Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party.

“I promise that we will bring that change, for which this nation was starving,” he told MPs during a raucous parliament session on Friday, which saw the opposition chant protest slogans against him.

In the West, the man who led Pakistan´s 1992 World Cup champion cricket team is typically seen through the prism of his celebrity and memories of his high-profile romances.

These include a nine-year marriage to British film producer and activist Jemima Goldsmith, then a university student.

Back home the thrice-married 65-year-old cuts a more conservative persona as a devout Muslim, often carrying prayer beads and nurturing beliefs in living saints.

Earlier this year, he married his spiritual advisor Bushra Maneka, with wedding photos showing the new bride clad in an ultra-conservative veil .

But to his legions of fans, especially young people, he is uncorrupted and generous, spending his years off the pitch building hospitals and a university.

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‘End the hatred’

Khan entered Pakistan´s chaotic politics in 1996 promising to fight graft.

For his first decade and a half as a politician he sputtered, with his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party never securing more than a few seats in the national assembly.

“Sports teaches you that life is not in a straight line,” he told AFP earlier this year. “You take the knocks. You learn from your mistakes.”

In 2012 the PTI´s popularity surged with hordes of young Pakistanis who grew up idolising Khan as a cricket icon reaching voting age.

Khan admits his party was ill-prepared to capitalise on the wave during the 2013 election. But that was then.

Five years later the PTI ran a nationwide campaign, mobilising support in areas far from its northwestern and urban strongholds.

Polls showed the party´s popularity climbing nationally going into the crunch vote while the outgoing PML-N limped into the contest.

Analysts have said that along with the youth vote, Khan may have tapped into anger among Pakistan´s growing middle class, fed up with the corruption that characterised both the PPP and PML-N governments.

Some fear Khan´s mercurial nature is unsuited to being prime minister.

Khan, though, grabbed the best opportunity many believed he would ever have to seize the biggest prize of the sporting icon´s life.