LONDON: Supporters of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf faced off outside the residence of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif in London on Sunday, as one group celebrated and the other protested the ouster of PTI chairman Imran Khan from the premiership.
A heavy police contingent stood in a chain between the two groups as they chanted slogans against each other’s leaders.
The morning started with a few PML-N supporters gathering outside Mr Sharif’s Avenfield House residence to celebrate. Two men were hired to play the dhol (drum), while party supporters broke into a dance and chanted slogans in favour of Nawaz Sharif.
“Chant your slogans loudly so Mian Sb can hear you inside!” said one supporter to the others, as they yelled “sher sher” (tiger). Mr Sharif’s bodyguards stood outside the main entrance of the apartment block. Members of the family were not seen at the gathering.
A stone’s throw away in the green expanses of Hyde Park, hundreds of PTI supporters demonstrated against Mr Khan’s ouster.
Imran Khan’s UK spokesperson Sahibzada Jahangir had in a video message called on the party’s supporters to gather at the park and then march to the US embassy to register their protest against alleged “foreign interference by America in Pakistan”.
A message circulating in PTI Whatsapp groups said the purpose of the demonstration was to raise their voice against “regime change” and the Supreme Court’s decision; and to demand free and fair elections through electronic voting as well as the right of overseas Pakistanis to vote.
At the PTI protest, both speakers and members of the crowd condemned the alleged US role in Imran Khan’s removal, with many saying they believed the letter and conspiracy Mr Khan spoke of was a reality. Several of Mr Khan’s supporters were also critical of the military establishment, and blamed it for his exit.
Emotions ran high and some supporters were teary-eyed as they spoke about their anger over his ouster.
“This new imported government is unacceptable,” chanted Mr Khan’s supporters.
“The sense of pride that we feel as Pakistanis has been instilled in us by Imran Khan alone.”
Some chanted: “No Imran, no remittances.”
The sizeable crowd was made up of PTI supporters from all over London, with many families turning up on the sunny day along with their children. Many wore shirts emblazoned with a photo of Mr Khan, and carried posters in which they condemned the heads of the Pakistan Democratic Movement’s component parties.
Although the plan for the PTI crowd was to march to the US embassy at 2pm, hundreds of people instead turned towards Park Lane and decided to take their protest to Avenfield House. Police raced ahead of the PTI demonstrators to create a divide between PML-N workers who were already outside Mr Sharif’s residence.
As the two groups confronted each other, both sides chanted slogans in praise of their leader and denounced the other.
Slogans raised by PTI supporters included “boot polish, boot polish” as well as anti-US chants, while PML-N workers did the bhangra to the drum beats and clapped.
Sahibzada Jahangir, the PTI spokesperson, said Imran Khan’s supporters were ready to give the “last drop of their blood” for him. “Khan will bounce back from the setback.”
Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2022