Pakistan capital blockaded ahead of opposition protest - GulfToday

Pakistan police fire teargas, baton-charge supporters of ousted PM Khan


Police use tear gas to disperse activists of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in Lahore on Wednesday. AFP

Gulf Today Report

Pakistani police fired teargas and baton-charged supporters of ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday to block them from reaching the capital Islamabad, officials and witnesses said.

All roads leading into Pakistan's capital Islamabad were blocked on Wednesday ahead of a major protest planned by ousted prime minister Imran Khan and his supporters.

Policemen surround a vehicle carrying leaders of Pakistan's key opposition as they try to stop the car in Lahore. AP

Since being removed from power through a no-confidence vote last month, Khan has heaped pressure on the country's fragile new coalition government by staging mass rallies across the country.

Khan has called on the supporters to march on the capital and stay there until the new government is dissolved and a date for a fresh election is announced.

He was ousted in a confidence vote by a united opposition after he lost his partners in his coalition government last month.

"We are getting reports that the police have baton-charged and fired teargas shells to break the protesters," Amjad Malik, an interior ministry official, told the media.

A policeman fires tear gas to disperse supporters of Pakistan's key opposition party in Lahore on Wednesday. AP

He said no one was seriously injured in the clashes, which were reported mostly in Punjab province, and that the police had also rounded up dozens of the activists.

Live local TV footage showed the police fighting with the supporters, beating them and in some places breaking the windscreens of their vehicles and bundling them into police vans.


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The international cricket star-turned-politician plans on Wednesday to lead tens of thousands of people from his power base in the northwestern city of Peshawar to the capital demanding fresh elections — in a centre-piece showdown with his rivals.

In Lahore, police deployed tear gas against Khan supporters attempting to remove roadblocks and travel to Islamabad in convoys.

"Nobody should be allowed to besiege the capital and dictate his terms," interior minister Rana Sanaullah said Tuesday.

Police crack down on protesters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in Lahore on Wednesday. AFP

Schools in Islamabad and neighbouring Rawalpindi were closed and all exams cancelled, while a state of emergency was declared at all hospitals, with staff put on alert.

"We have seen the capital blocked before but this is something unprecedented," Islamabad private school worker Allah Ditta, 52, told AFP.

Salon worker Sawera Masih complained that the wide-scale disruption was falling hardest on daily wage workers like herself.

"Whoever is in power doesn't make a difference to us, but not earning even for a single day affects me and my family," the 23-year-old said.

The coalition government headed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has pledged to stop Khan's supporters from pouring into the city, calling the rally an attempt to "divide the nation and promote chaos".

Police officers assemble next to shipping containers placed by authorities to block a road in Islamabad, Pakistan. AP

"Nobody should be allowed to besiege the capital and dictate his terms," interior minister Rana Sanaullah said on Tuesday.

Entry and exit points on key highways that lead to the capital were blocked by police around the nearest main cities of Peshawar, Lahore, and Multan.

Islamabad police on Wednesday published a traffic plan showing a complete blockade of the city and a heavy security presence.

On Tuesday, Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) accused police of arresting and detaining hundreds of its supporters in overnight raids.

Police sources in Lahore who asked not to be named told AFP more than 200 supporters were detained on public order offences.

Shipping containers placed by authorities block a road in an attempt to foil a planned rally, in Islamabad. AP

The government and police have said that protestors had been planning to join the march with weapons.

One police officer was shot dead during the raids, Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz Sharif said.

But a defiant Khan told reporters in Peshawar he would lead the largest march in Pakistan's history.

"I don't consider it politics but jihad," Khan said, referring to a term used by Muslims to describe a struggle.

In 2018, Khan was voted in by an electorate weary of the dynastic politics of the country's two major parties.

The popular former sports star had promised to sweep away decades of entrenched corruption and cronyism but is believed to have fallen out with Pakistan's generals.

He was brought down in part by his reported failure to rectify the country's dire economic situation, including its crippling debt, shrinking foreign currency reserves and soaring inflation.