• Crackdown on activists in south Punjab cities • PPP’s Qasim Gilani shifted to Multan jail • Opposition leaders determined to hold rally today

MULTAN: The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and the Punjab government are apparently heading for a showdown on Monday (today), with opposition parties insisting on holding their public meeting at Qasim Bagh Stadium while the administration taking back the control of the venue as well as major roads leading to it with heavy deployment of police contingents and arresting political workers.

Amid reports of a major crackdown in various cities and towns of south Punjab ahead of the anti-government rally, hundreds of opposition workers were booked and arrested while Pakistan Peoples Party leader Ali Qasim Gilani was shifted to Multan jail on Sunday.

However, PDM convener Maulana Fazlur Rehman, accompanied by former premier and PPP leader Yousuf Raza Gilani and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Rana Sanaullah, at a press conference appealed to his workers to reach Qasim Bagh by removing all obstacles and said if they were baton-charged, they were allowed to use batons to make their way. He also warned the authorities that if the Multan rally was not allowed, protests would be held in every district headquarters on coming Friday and Sunday.

The Maulana said the PDM show would be held at Qila Kohna Qasim Bagh Stadium at any cost, claiming that holding the public meeting was their fundamental constitutional right. “We have to fight this war for democracy and rights of people. The government is committing state terrorism by arresting our workers. We are not afraid of being imprisoned. I instruct all PDM workers to reach Qasim Bagh by removing obstacles. If they use batons, you too are allowed to use batons to make your way,” he said.

The PDM had initially decided to organise a long march to Islamabad in January 2021, “however, it seems the government wants us to march on Islamabad earlier,” said the PDM convener.

Monday’s meeting is part of a series of public meetings the PDM is holding across the country to make the PTI government resign while the government says it is blocking the Multan show to check the spread of coronavirus.

In a late Saturday night move, police launched a crackdown on the PPP workers, who had taken control of the stadium earlier in the day to set the stage for the meeting, and got it vacated. They arrested and tortured PPP leader Qasim, son of ex-PM Gilani, and dozens of party workers.

The Lohari Gate police on Sunday registered two FIRs against 80 identified and 800 unidentified workers under sections 353/156, 379/506, 427/148 and 149 of Pakistan Penal Code besides section 17 of the Punjab Infectious Diseases (Prevention and Control) Ordinance 2020. According to the FIRs, activists armed with clubs damaged the barriers and fence installed to control the law and order situation and attacked police.

The district administration removed flags and banners of PDM parties from the stadium and city roads and Deputy Commissioner Aamar Khattak, on the recommendation of the city police officer, sent PPP leader Qasim to the Multan district jail for 30 days.

Earlier, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari tweeted: “The PTI government is so threatened by PPP’s upcoming foundation day rally in Multan. They yet again attacked and arrested our workers, including Qasim Gilani. We will host the PDM show on Nov 30 come what may. Aseefa Bhutto Zardari will be reaching there to represent me.”

Multan has been converted into a field of war and it seems that martial law has been imposed in the country, said PPP leaders Nafeesa Shah and Shehla Raza while talking to the media. They said hundreds of PPP workers were arrested while many were still missing.

They alleged that PPP caravans from Sindh were being stopped from reaching Multan. Ms Shah told Dawn that Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari and Maryam Nawaz would come to Multan with huge processions. “How the government will be able to stop the flood of the masses coming to Multan,” she remarked.

PML-N’s Sanaullah said party vice president Maryam Nawaz would reach the stadium to address the people by removing all the obstacles that he alleged had been set on the instructions of Prime Minister Imran Khan. He said the police had arrested 40 party activists by blocking a rally that he led at Ghanta Ghar Chowk.

Ex-PM Gilani told the presser that he was thankful to the government for making the PDM rally successful even before Nov 30. “Imran had promised on the floor of the House that he will provide containers and food to the opposition if they want to hold rallies. Half of that promise has been fulfilled, as the containers have arrived,” he quipped.

Meanwhile, the arrested workers and leaders of PDM including Ali Qasim Gilani were shifted to district and central jails of Multan after their tests for coronavirus were conducted at Nishtar Hospital.

There were also reports of police raids and arrest of opposition workers from various cities and towns of south Punjab. Containers were also placed along roads leading to Multan. The police also arrested Makhdoom Zahid Bahar Hashmi, son-in-law of firebrand leader Javed Hashmi.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2020


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