Nawaz Sharif defies house arrest, heads towards Islamabad
Pakistan plunged deeper into a political chaos tonight as a defiant Nawaz Sharif joined by tens of thousands of supporters in Lahore was headed towards Islamabad for a mass sit-in front of Parliament today amid reports that IGP of Punjab province’s police and other senior officials had resigned and joined his ‘Long March´ for restoration of the Constitution.world Updated: Mar 16, 2009 01:12 IST
Pakistan plunged deeper into a political chaos tonight as a defiant Nawaz Sharif joined by tens of thousands of supporters in Lahore was headed towards Islamabad for a mass sit-in front of Parliament tomorrow amid reports that IGP of Punjab province’s police and other senior officials had resigned and joined his ‘Long March´ for restoration of the Constitution.
Heading for a showdown with the government, Sharif, the PML-N leader and a former premier, defied his house arrest in Lahore as one of Pakistan’s biggest civil disobedience movement unfolded with hundreds of stone-throwing anti-government protesters fighting pitched battles with police in the capital of Punjab province. The Punjab Deputy Attorney General was also reported to have resigned.
As Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani met Army Chief General Ashfaq Gilani to discuss the escalating situation, the protests by lawyers and PML-N supporters for restoration of judges sacked in 2007 by the then President Pervez Musharraf gathered steam and threatened to spiral out of control after Sharif defied the house arrest.
Emerging from his Model Town residence, Sharif who his party supporters said was ordered to be placed under house arrest for three days along with his brother Shabaz Sharif urged people to defy restrictions and join the ‘Long March´.
“Brothers, do not be scared or worried. These obstacles are temporary. We must remove them and only then can we reach our destination,” he said.
Denounced his house arrest order as illegal, Sharif told his flag-waving and chanting supporters, “These are the decisive moments.” “After 1947 this is the second time that the country needs you,” the former premier said giving a call to oust President Asif Ali Zardari.
Sharif told supporters before leaving for the GPO chowk from his residece, "I tell every Pakistani youth that this is not the time to stay home; Pakistan is calling you to come and save me."
Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik, however, claimed no orders had been issued for putting the Sharif brothers in house arrest.
Sharif's younger brother and former Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz, who was in the garrison city of Rawalpindi at a PML-N leader's residence, gave a slip to police and went into hiding before he could be served order for his house arrest, PML-N spokesman Siddique-ul-Farooq said.
Earlier, media reports had said that Shahbaz too was placed under house arrest.
The government also issued orders for the detention of Jamaat-e-Islami chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed and cricket-turned- politician Imran Khan, the leader of Tehrik-e-Insaf party, both of whom are in hiding, local media reports said.
On the penultimate day of the long march which was launched on March 12, a large police contingent fired tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse lawyers, civil society activists and workers of the PML-N, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf and Jamaat-e-Islami parties, who had gathered at GPO Chowk in Lahore to join the rally to Islamabad.
Both sides pelted stones at each other and police in riot gear beat protesters with batons and sticks. Several persons were injured in the clashes and some protesters were also arrested and bundled into police vans.
Earlier this morning, police arrested over 20 PML-N activists who had gathered at a camp set up outside Sharif's residence at Model Town.
Police also put under house arrest several other senior PML-N leaders, including Senator Ishaq Dar, parliamentarian Saad Rafiq and Zulfikar Khosa, the chief of the party's unit in Lahore. Dissident PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan, a key player in the lawyers' movement, too was placed under house arrest.
Supporters accompanying Sharif's swelling convoy smashed the windows of buses parked along the route. Others set fire to tyres, sending plumes of black smoke into the sky.
To thwart them, authorities parked trucks across major roads on the edge of the city, and riot police took up positions outside the railway station and government buildings.
Still, several thousands flag-waving demonstrators pushed past police barricades to reach the courts. Sone lawyers were seen cutting the barbed fire fences.