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LAHORE: Unlike his reception at the railway station, Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid was greeted with cheer and applause by spectators at the general enclosure of the Gaddafi Stadium on Sunday evening.

A number of spectators shouted slogans in favour of Rashid when he entered the enclosure to watch the final match of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) between Quetta Gladiators and Peshawar Zalmi. Before departing for the stadium, he had said that if anything happened to him the prime minister, chief minister and provincial law minister would be responsible.

A PML-N supporter had hurled a show at Rashid when he had arrived in the city late on Saturday at the railway station. “I have forgotten the incident. I have come to watch the match for my country that has to win the war against terrorism,” Rashid said.

A number of dignitaries welcomed the holding of PSL final in Lahore, saying cricket and Pakistan will be the eventual winners.

Before the beginning of the match, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan had tweeted: “Good luck & best wishes to both cricket teams in the PSL final. Really appreciate the public’s participation. May Allah keep everyone safe.”

Inter Services Public Relations Director General Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor tweeted: “Welcome to foreign players/guests. Good luck to playing teams. Sports promote peace! Pakistan Zindabad.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took an aerial view of Gaddafi Stadium to check arrangements for the match. Later, he flew to Islamabad on a special flight.

Punjab Higher Education Minister Syed Raza Ali Gilani addressed various university students who were given tickets to watch the PSL final.

“We will defeat terrorists with unity. We have selected students belonging to Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and Gilgit-Baltistan studying in Punjab University, University of Agriculture Faisalabad, Bahauddin Zakariya University Multan, University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences Lahore, Government College University Faisalabad and University of Gujrat to demonstrate unity,” he said.

Former governor and PTI leader Chaudhry Sarwar said terrorists were against the revival of international cricket and peace in Pakistan. “Terrorists and fasaadis will now fail to get their nefarious designs implemented in Pakistan,” said Mr Sarwar before entering the Gaddafi Stadium to watch the match.

PTI Punjab central President Abdul Aleem Khan said Prime Minister Sharif should have watched the match at the stadium to give a message of the government’s resolve against terrorists. He said the whole nation was united against terrorists, adding that playing the PSL final in Lahore was no less than an honour.

Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, PTI leader Asad Umer, journalist Reham Khan, Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq, GB Chief Minister Hafiz Hafeezur Rehman, veteran politician Javed Hashmi, PML-N MNAs Pervaiz Malik and Shaista Malik were among the prominent names who watched the match at the stadium.

Inside the stadium, chants of ‘Go Nawaz Go’ echoed as the opening ceremony of the final match commenced.

As soon as PSL Chairman Najam Sethi started his welcome speech by congratulating the crowd as well as those glued to their television screens at home, the venue echoed with the anti-government slogan and continued throughout Sethi’s brief speech.

The PTI had coined the slogan soon after the 2013 general elections and since then it has been chanted at every big opposition gathering -- protest or rally.

PTI workers said the slogan is a “natural catharsis” of the masses against incumbent rulers, who were pushing them against the wall every passing day. They claimed the anti-government slogan was chanted at the match despite the fact that the rulers and people at the helm of affairs had distributed match tickets among its leaders to five away to party workers.

Commenting on the slogan reverberating around the stadium, independent observers said: “One can dismiss them as politicising the event or recognise as the voice of people fed up with corruption.”

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2017