Pakistani police have detained hundreds of supporters of ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan on the eve of a major sit-in planned for the former leader, senior party members and police sources said on Tuesday when the government promised to block the protest.
Former Prime Minister Khan, a cricket star who became a populist politician, was ousted from power last month by a no-confidence vote, but has since put pressure on the country’s fragile new coalition government by holding mass rallies across the country.
Claiming he was removed as a result of a “foreign conspiracy”, Mr Khan plans on Wednesday to bring tens of thousands of supporters from his power base in the northwestern city of Peshawar to the capital Islamabad demanding new elections.
“Tomorrow I will lead the largest march in Pakistan’s history. I don’t think it’s politics, it’s jihad, “said Mr Khan, referring to a term used by Muslims to describe the struggle.
Security has been tightened across the country, transport container checkpoints have been set up in Islamabad, and the government quarter has been closed, while many entry and exit points around the city of Lahore – about 380 kilometers – have also been blocked.
“This (protest) is being done to divide the nation and promote chaos,” Interior Minister Rana Sanaula told reporters.
“No one should be allowed to besiege the capital and dictate their terms.”
“This march cannot be allowed,” added Information Minister Marium Aurangzeb.
Pakistani leader Imran Khan in China Source: Getty
Arrests of the opposition
Two police officers told AFP that more than 200 supporters of Pakistan’s Khan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) party were arrested during night raids in the country’s most populous province, Punjab.
They were convicted of disorderly conduct and remain in custody, one source said.
Former Minister of Information in the government of Prime Minister Khan Fawad Chaudhry accused the police of lacking the necessary warrants and called the number of arrests more than 400 people.
“More than 1,100 houses were searched during the night. Police entered houses without a warrant and insulted women and children, ”he wrote on Twitter.
One police officer was shot dead during a raid on the home of a PTI supporter in Lahore, Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz Sharif said.
Travelers are trying to take the road, partially blocked by containers by local authorities, to impede mobility ahead of a sit-in planned for Islamabad by former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (PTI) in Lahore on May 24. 2022 Source: AFP / ARIF ALI / AFP via Getty Images
Police have not officially commented on the arrests or charges.
Ataula Tarar – senior PML-N leader of the new Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif – told a news conference that the protesters planned to join the march “with weapons”.
“We have information that they have started collecting ammunition in different places,” he told reporters.
Political scientist Hassan Askari Rizvi said Pakistan’s all-powerful military is now neutral in the confrontation, but “they may try to defuse the situation if it gets worse.”
On Saturday, senior PTI leader and former minister Shirin Mazari was arrested near his home in the capital over a land dispute that has lasted for decades.
She was briefly detained before a court released her.
Police arrest supporters of former Pakistani leader Imran Khan. Source: AAP
In 2018, an electorate that was tired of the dynastic policies of the country’s two main parties voted for Mr Khan, with the popular former sports star vowing to wipe out decades of entrenched corruption and championships.
In part, he was beaten because of his inability to fix the country’s difficult economic situation, including its heavy debt, shrinking foreign exchange reserves and rising inflation.
The new leader, Mr. Sharif, is now struggling with the same crisis, as well as growing militancy and damaged relations with the West.