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Opposition activists clash with security forces ahead of Imran Khan’s protest

Opposition activists clashed with security forces in Rawalpindi and Islamabad after authorities arrested dozens of people to block cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s plan to blockade the Pakistani capital on November 2.

world Updated: Oct 28, 2016 23:12 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Police block the road leading to the home of Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan in Islamabad on Friday.
Police block the road leading to the home of Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan in Islamabad on Friday.(Reuters)

Opposition activists clashed with security forces in Rawalpindi and Islamabad on Friday after authorities arrested dozens of people to block cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s plan to blockade the Pakistani capital on November 2.

Authorities deployed large contingents of security forces near the homes of Khan in Islamabad and Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed in Rawalpindi to prevent them from mobilising their supporters.

An angry Khan said he would go ahead with his lockdown of Islamabad to pressure Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down over revelations in the Panama Papers leaks that his three children owned offshore assets worth millions of dollars.

Khan said neither the police nor the government could stop him from holding the protest. “You cannot stop the flood of PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) workers on November 2,” he told reporters, questioning if the country was being run by a democratic government or a monarchy. He also questioned why he had become “a virtual prisoner without committing any crime”.

Sharif said those who were working against his government were “jealous” of its achievements. He said the “politics of protest” would hurt Pakistan more than it could be imagined.

Motorcyclists pass through a gap in a barricade set up using shipping containers near the venue of a planned protest organised by the Awami Muslim League, a political ally of Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, in Rawalpindi on Friday. (Reuters)

The situation turned tense after police stormed a youth convention organised by Khan’s PTI party in Islamabad and arrested nearly 40 activists on Thursday night. Police also arrested scores of Ahmed’s supporters in a late night crackdown in Rawalpindi.

Ahmed defied attempts to arrest him at Lal Haveli, his home in Rawalpindi, and went to Committee Chowk to address his supporters. Authorities blocked roads leading to the square with shipping containers and barbed wire but opposition activists gathered at the spot and clashed with police, who fired teargas shells through the day to disperse protestors.

Protestors also clashed with police outside Khan’s home at Bani Gala on the outskirts of Islamabad.

PTI and Awami Muslim League workers also organised rallies in several cities. In Gujranwala, PTI workers were allegedly attacked by supporters of the ruling PML-N. Most of these protests were small but they helped create momentum for the planned rally on November 2.

Authorities suspended the Metro Bus Service in Islamabad and Rawalpindi and entrance gates leading to bus stops were locked. In different parts of Rawalpindi, protestors blocked roads and burned tyres.

Police spokesman Naeem Iqbal confirmed police had been deployed to surround Khan’s Islamabad home. Officials said the PTI had contravened an order banning public gatherings in Islamabad by organising the youth convention.

In a related development, senior leaders of the ruling PML-N met army chief Gen Raheel Sharif at his residence in Rawalpindi on Thursday after the army put pressure on the government to reveal the identity of the person who leaked information showing the armed forces in poor light to journalist Cyril Almeida.

The military’s media wing said interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, finance minister Ishaq Dar and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif called on Gen Sharif.

“The delegation briefed the chief of army staff on the progress of investigation and recommendations pertaining to the planted story of the national security breach of October 6,” the media wing said after the 90-minute meeting.

Almeida had reported in the Dawn newspaper on a rift between the civil and military leadership over tackling terrorists and non-state actors. The army denounced the report as fabricated and described it as a serious breach of national security.

There was speculation that the meeting between the army chief and the PML-N leaders also discussed the standoff between the government and Imran Khan’s party.