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Govt goes into overdrive as PTI stands its ground

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RAWALPINDI: Sheikh Rashid, who defied all blockades to reach Committee Chowk on a motorcycle, returns after making a speech
RAWALPINDI: Sheikh Rashid, who defied all blockades to reach Committee Chowk on a motorcycle, returns after making a speech

• Activists baton-charged, held
• Qadri to stay away from Nov 2 ‘lockdown’

ISLAMABAD: A day after he resolved to attend a public meeting called by Sheikh Rashid’s Awami Muslim League, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan remained under virtual house arrest at his Banigala residence on Friday as police teargassed and baton-charged scores of PTI’s workers before bundling them into prison vans in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

Later in the evening, the PTI chief emerged from his residence for a brief period along with other party leaders only to tell the media that no government action would deter him from staging the Nov 2 lockdown of Islamabad.

“Wait for Nov 2, a PTI tsunami will sweep even a contingent of 50,000 policemen to D-Chowk,” Mr Khan said. It appears to be the first indication that the PTI might reach the place located in front of Parliament House where it had staged a sit-in for three months in 2014.

While the government claimed that it was taking action against the PTI for violating a ban that prohibited assembly of four or more persons imposed under Section 144 of the criminal procedure code, it allowed the outlawed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat to hold its annual meetings at a playground near Aabpara.

Intermittent clashes between PTI workers and the police took place on different spots in the twin cities. A hide-and-seek between the police and protesters that began after Friday’s prayer, continued till night.

People of the twin cities faced severe hardships due to the PTI protests and subsequent government action against the party.

At the Murree Road, Banigala, Expressway, Faizabad, the police resorted to heavy teargas shelling and baton-charged the protesters, who pelted vehicles with stones and lit bonfires in a bid to suspend the vehicular traffic.

More than 140 PTI workers and leaders, including MPA Ijaz Khan Jazi, were taken into custody in Rawalpindi.

At Banigala, police baton-charged the PTI workers and fired teargas shells when they started pelting stones.

A group of the PTI workers reached Islamabad from Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa. However, the police and paramilitaries used force to disperse them. Some arrests were made and those taken into custody were shifted to different police stations.

While the PTI chief did not try to leave his residence during the day, Shaikh Rashid rode a motorbike to reach Committee Chowk — the venue of the public meeting close to Lal Haveli— during a clash between activists and police as the law enforcers used teargas to disperse them. The portly leader climbed on to the DSNG van of a private news channel, made a brief speech and left.

The PTI chairman told reporters that he was scheduled to attend the public meeting called by Mr Rashid’s party in Rawalpindi but he was not allowed to leave his residence.

Later, a visibly disappointed Mr Rashid told a private news channel that Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s chief Allama Tahir-ul-Qadri would not be joining the PTI’s Nov 2 lockdown of Islamabad.

However, PAT Secretary General Khurram Nawaz Ganda­pur told Dawn that no decision had yet been taken regarding the participation of Allama Qadri in the PTI’s planned protest as his party was assessing the situation.

ISLAMABAD: Police baton-charge the PTI workers at the Banigala residence of Imran Khan on Friday.
—Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
ISLAMABAD: Police baton-charge the PTI workers at the Banigala residence of Imran Khan on Friday. —Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

In his media talk, Mr Khan termed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif a “coward” and said: “I will continue to chase him till he is made accountable for his deeds.”

Asked if he was under house arrest or not, Mr Khan said he was under virtual house arrest.

“Any house arrest makes no difference to me. Even 30,000 police­men cannot stop me,” he said. “I challenge that the government cannot stop a flood of people coming into Islamabad on Nov 2.”

Calling the PML-N government a “monarchy”, he said that the government had violated the Thursday order of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) which permitted the PTI to lodge a peaceful protest for the fulfilment of its demand of accountability.

“It is not the trial of NAB, FIA, FBR and other institutions but the trial of the judiciary which has to implement its own orders,” he said. “The government has torn apart the decision of the Islamabad High Court by closing down metro bus service and schools, erecting barricades and ordering police for baton charge against peaceful PTI workers.”

Speaking on the occasion, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that he would approach the apex court on Nov 1 to seek justice and permission to carry out the party’s Nov 2 protest programme. “We are watching as to how the Islamabad High Court reacts to the violation of its orders and I am definitely going to the Supreme Court on Nov 1.”

PTI leader Naeemul Haq, who was also barred from proceeding to Mr Khan’s house, told a press conference outside Banigala in the evening that his party would “lock down” not only Islamabad but also the entire country on Nov 2. “We launched a movement to lock down only Islamabad but the government’s illegal action against our workers forced us to launch a countrywide protest.”

However, the government remained adamant that it would not allow the PTI to shut down Islamabad on Nov 2.

In a statement, Information Minister Pervez Rashid said: “Nobody can be allowed to usurp democratic rights of other citizens. Imran Khan had exercised all his democratic and legal rights for three and a half years and held meetings and rallies everyday and no hurdle was put in his way. Today the difference is Mr Khan has decided to adopt an illegal way by assaulting the capital and trying to halt the government from working and stop citizens from daily routine and sending children to schools.”

He said there was a provision in the law which allowed the government to fulfil its responsibility of protecting people from disruption.

Published in Dawn October 29th, 2016