Imran Khan on Friday vowed to not rest until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is held accountable for what the PTI chief called his [PM's] "corruption" even as Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rasheed dared the government to try and arrest him.
"Is this a kingdom or a democracy?" the PTI supremo asked outside his Bani Gala residence. "What crime have we committed? Why did they stop me from going to Rawalpindi?"
"When IHC directed [authorities] not to block Islamabad then why was Bani Gala sealed?"
Explaining his decision to not resist police in reaching Rawalpindi, Imran said: "We were going to Pindi to prepare for Nov 2, but when they [police] stopped us we established that there is no point in doing this today when our target is Nov 2."
He said he would show during the Islamabad protest "what the power of people actually is".
"I will follow you till my last breath," he warned Nawaz Sharif. "If you put me in jail, I will come after you when I get out."
Imran further alleged that although Nawaz chants the mantra of democracy, he does that "just to safeguard his corruption".
"To hide his corruption, he does not respect any law... to hide his corruption, he uses the language of Modi against Pakistan Army," Imran alleged.
He said even "30,000 policemen" cannot stop him from going to the capital on Nov 2 and directed party workers to avoid arrest and gear up for the planned protest in Islamabad.
Later in the evening, a scuffle broke out between PTI workers and police near Imran Khan's residence. The PTI chief ordered his personnel photographer to grab the situation on camera.
PTI leaders were monitoring the media coverage of Friday's events inside Imran Khan's Bani Gala residence. The workers and media persons, however, were not allowed to enter the residence.
Police resorted to baton charge against PTI supporters at Bani Gala and arrested a number of workers.
‘Lawyers not allowed to meet arrested workers’
PTI spokesperson Naeem ul Haq while talking to media outside Bani Gala expressed his grievances regarding provision of justice to arrested workers.
“Lawyers are not allowed to meet the arrested workers,” he said.
The PTI leader warned the government that illegal mass arrests will trigger protests and lockdown across the country. “Now after illegal arrest and crack down upon workers, we will lockdown the whole country.”
Haq alleged the government is silencing the voice of people against corruption adding that, “Nawaz Sharif has violated his own oath as prime minister.”
Arrest me if you can: Sheikh Rasheed
As the PTI and Awami Muslim League (AML) vowed to go ahead with their planned protests against the government, police and opposition activists came face to face at Rawalpindi's Committee Chowk near the Lal Haveli residence of Sheikh Rasheed.
Sheikh Rasheed arrived at Committee Chowk on a motorcycle to join the protesters.
"If you have it in you, come and arrest me," he dared the authorities while addressing supporters.
He claimed that 450 protesters have been arrested by "plain-clothed personnel".
TV footage showed baton-carrying police pushing back Awami League activists. Soon after, activists started pelting stones at the police.
Speaking to DawnNews separatly, Rashid said the police were beating up activists of his party. "They did not even spare children. They are not letting ambulances reach Lal Haveli."
Although Imran Khan had earlier decided to address supporters at an AML-organised meeting at Lal Haveli, he later cancelled that plan.
An Islamabad police official said police had been instructed to ensure implementation of Section 144 and restrict movement of PTI leaders.
Meanwhile, the interior ministry's helicopters were seen conducting air surveillance of the capital to discourage any gathering at public places.
The political atmosphere in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi turned tense with the PTI calling for countrywide protests on Friday after police stormed a youth convention of the party and arrested activists in the federal capital late on Thursday.
Despite the plans announced for today's protest, normal traffic could be witnessed on Murree road, the main artery connecting Rawalpindi and Islamabad, and education institutions, offices and businesses were functioning as per usual in the twin cities. However, the turnings on the road that lead to Lal Haveli where the AML gathering was going to take place were blocked with containers.
Furthermore, authorities suspended the Metro Bus Service in the twin cities "till further orders". And although skeleton staff was present, entrance gates of all bus stops have been locked for public since Thursday evening.
Also read: Ignoring the larger threat to democracy
Section 144 was imposed in the twin cities a day earlier, leading to a ban on public gatherings and usage of loudspeakers.
Tensions at Bani Gala
Late on Thursday night, three buses carrying Frontier Constabulary (FC) personnel had reached the residence of the PTI supremo and troops were deployed in the area. Police deployment also began in the area early Friday.
Meanwhile, PTI activists also took positions in front of Khan's residence. A PTI volunteer earlier claimed that around 2,500 party workers have already reached Bani Gala.
AML's planned convention at Lal Haveli
The AML convention was scheduled as a warm up exercise ahead of the Nov 2 showdown by the PTI. AML, Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) of Tahirul Qadri, Pakistan Muslim League - Quaid (PML-Q) have announced to join the Nov 2 'lockdown'.
Since last night, all the five ways leading to Shaikh Rashid's residence, where PTI Chairman Imran Khan was also earlier due to address a gathering, remained sealed. Shops around the area were also sealed by authorities ahead of the meeting.
Rashid, who slept at a friend's residence last night, arrived at Committee Chowk on Friday morning and addressed reporters there after Friday prayers. He had said that the convention would be held at the Committee Chowk as the administration had sealed roads to Lal Haveli where the programme was scheduled to take place.
Earlier on Thursday, he vowed to "tear Section 144 into 144 pieces" as the administration announced the section's imposition.
"On Nov 2, Rawalpindi will be closed down no matter what anyone does," he said.
PTI and the government have locked horns since the names of members of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's family appeared in the Panama Papers leaks.
After months of verbal duels between the parties, Imran Khan announced plans to lay siege on the capital on Nov 2, and vowed to stay put until Prime Minister Nawaz resigns or presents himself for accountability in the backdrop of the Panama Papers scandal.
Imran claims the revelations in Panama Papers are proof of the PM's corruption and that the latter should give up his position. In contrast, the ruling PML-N has accused Khan of sowing anarchy with his plans and claimed that the party leadership and PM's family were ready for accountability through proper channels.
In a new development, the Supreme Court on Friday constituted a larger bench to hear petitions in connection with the Panama Papers leaks.
Chief Justice (CJ) Anwar Zaheer Jamali will be chairing the bench while Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, Justice Amir Hani Muslim, Justice Azmat Saeed and Justice Ijazul Hassan are the other members.
Although Panama Papers leaks has been a running theme with the PTI's demands for accountability, the latest calls to protest come at the heels of a scheduled changeover in the military high command and at a time when ties between the civilian leadership and the army top brass are coming across as complex if not downright fraught.
Questions are being asked as to whether the army would step in in case the protests get out of hand. There is ample speculation about street protests, possible bloodshed and an escalating situation creating space for the army to intervene.
With additional reporting by Mohammad Raza in Karachi.