The proscribed Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) resumed its march from Gujranwala on Friday, with thousands of activists travelling in cars, buses and on foot continuing their journey towards Islamabad.
Participants of the protest march spent the night near the General Bus Stand on the Grand Trunk Road and resumed their rally in the morning, despite Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed's Thursday night warning to the TLP to call off its march or face "consequences".
The rally, which comprises around 5,000 participants, reached the Gujrat-Chenab toll plaza after stopping at Rahwali to offer Friday prayers. A heavy police contingent was deployed at the toll plaza.
A senior official earlier told Dawn that the next TLP-police encounter was expected at two major security points that had been established at Chenab and Jhelum rivers, the only route for the march to reach Islamabad.
This time, he said, the Rangers would lead the command, while the Punjab Police would assist them as per the standard guidelines issued since the government deployed Rangers in the province under a notification issued on Wednesday.
On Friday, hundreds of Rangers and police personnel were deployed at the Chenab toll plaza to counter the marchers.
The security personnel also have armoured vehicles with them and are equipped with riot gear, according to police sources.
About 500 metres from the Chenab toll plaza, the Punjab Rangers marked a 'red line', and put up a notice nearby warning the protesters not to breach the line or face consequences.
"Attention: Beyond this line, the responsibility for law and order lies with Pakistan Rangers (Punjab), who have been given the authority to open fire at the miscreants. All the people are strictly warned to return to their homes," the banner installed by the paramilitary force reads.
Meanwhile, PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif — alluding to the protest by the banned group — said: "When you undermine a legitimately and genuinely elected prime minister representing the will of the nation and attack parliament for petty political gains, you open the floodgates for chaos and anarchy."
"The country is the ultimate sufferer. Time for a collective rethink is NOW!" he urged.
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar also visited Lahore's Mayo Hospital to inquire about the health of police officials injured in clashes with TLP workers.
According to an update shared by the CM's Office on Twitter, Buzdar spoke to the injured officials and asked them about their condition and gave instructions to the hospital management for their treatment.
"The injured policemen will be provided with the best possible medical treatment and no effort should be spared in this regard," he said.
Protests in Karachi
Meanwhile, TLP workers also gathered outside the Karachi Press Club (KPC) and Orangi Town.
A TLP spokesperson, who only identified himself as Ali, said that workers were holding a demonstration outside the press club to show solidarity with workers who had been subjected to the "high-handedness" of officials in Punjab while marching to Islamabad.
Meanwhile, a police officer — requesting to remain anonymous — said that there were no restrictions on holding protests outside the KPC as there was a designated area for rallies.
The officer said that the TLP leadership had assured officials they would hold a peaceful demonstration and would limit the protest to outside the KPC, where they would offer prayers and disperse by evening.
In case they try to expand their protest and move towards other areas, police contingents have been deployed to meet any eventuality, he said.
According to Artillery Maidan Police SHO Abdul Ghaffar, around 1,000-1,200 TLP workers protested outside the KPC under the leadership of Syed Jelan Shah Nazim.
Separately, TLP workers also took out a rally in Orangi Town. According to area SHO Azam Gopang, the workers took out a rally from Disco Mor at Orangi-5 where local leaders addressed them.
The officer said that around 2,000 activists of the outlawed TLP took part in the protest.
Law enforcers stand guard in Rawalpindi
In Rawalpindi, the authorities have blocked the entry and exit points to the city due to a feared disturbance in the law and order situation in the wake of the TLP march.
A heavy contingent of Frontier Constabulary, Elite Force and Rangers have been deployed at Faizabad Interchange to deal with any untoward situation.
Similarly, Rangers have also been stationed along the Metro Bus track and Murree Road. A number of areas have been sealed with containers to stop the marchers from creating a law and order situation.
32 suspects arrested
Meanwhile, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry announced that 32 members of a "proscribed organisation" had been arrested in a nighttime operation.
"These people were doing hateful propaganda through fake social media accounts and a major action has been started against fake news and propaganda," he tweeted, saying further arrests would be made soon.
Although Chaudhry did not divulge the arrested suspects' affiliation, he during a presser about the TLP on Wednesday had lashed out at "fake news" on social media and called on those spreading misinformation to mend their ways.
He said TLP activists were receiving "social media help" from India and some other countries, adding that the government was contacting these countries to have such people expelled and the PTA had been issued directions in this regard.
The TLP had earlier said that it would resume its journey after Friday prayers in Gujranwala. It plans to reach Wazirabad and Chenab toll plaza by the evening.
All three bridges over Chenab between Gujrat and Wazirabad towns have been filled with containers and at least 100 containers have been placed throughout the pathway of the bridges.
These fresh arrangements to prevent the TLP march were made on Thursday in addition to the already dug up trenches near the toll plazas on Wazirabad and Gujrat sides as the area was already blocked for the last one week.
Rangers troops have taken over the command of all security arrangements at the said point where a heavy contingent of police belonging to the entire Gujranwala region has already been deployed for the last many days.
Police fear clashes with the march participants between Wazirabad and Chenab toll plazas, Dawn reported.
The local administration has already sealed the entry and exit points of the Gujrat district, whereas both the bridges over Jhelum river between Sara-i-Alamgir town of Gujrat and Jhelum city were blocked on Wednesday.
Internet services have remained suspended in Gujrat district for the last many days.
In view of the security situation due to demonstrations and rallies being organised by the TLP, Pakistan Railways suspended Tez Gaam train operations on Thursday.
Additional reporting by Tahir Naseer in Rawalpindi.