Azadi March: Changing plan to stay at D-Chowk, Imran says will return in 6 days if elections not called
PTI supporters who were awaiting party chief Imran Khan's arrival at D-Chowk in Islamabad since Wednesday entered the Red Zone on Thursday morning, police said, after Imran gave a six-day deadline to the government to announce elections and warned that he would "return" to the capital if the demand was not met.
According to a statement issued by the Islamabad police spokesperson, the protesters were being stopped by police, Rangers and other law enforcers with "patience".
- Police say protesters entered Red Zone, disperse after talks with police officials
- Imran Khan gives govt six-day deadline to dissolve assemblies and announce date for polls
- Says five supporters killed in clashes with police
- Police say eight personnel of the Islamabad police and seven of Rangers injured as protesters hurled stones
- Protesters in Karachi begin to disperse
- SC orders govt to allow protest at H9, bars arrests
He said Islamabad Inspector General of Police Dr Akbar Nasir Khan was also present at the site and protesters were being instructed to leave the Red Zone. Dawn.com was able to confirm that the activists had indeed entered the Red Zone. They dispersed after negotiations with the police.
Imran gives 6-day deadline for election announcement
Earlier, PTI Chairman Imran Khan addressed the protesters at Islamabad's 9th Avenue and gave a six-day deadline to the government for announcing elections and dissolving assemblies and warned that he would return to the capital with the "entire nation" otherwise.
"I had decided that I will sit here until the government dissolves assemblies and announces elections, but of what I have seen in the past 24 hours, they (govt) are taking the nation towards anarchy," he said, claiming that the government was also trying to create a divide between the nation and police.
Imran said the government would be happy if he staged a sit-in in Islamabad as it would lead to clashes between the people and police and the army.
He denounced the "tactics" used by the "imported government", including raids and arrests, to stop the PTI's march and thanked the Supreme Court (SC) for taking notice of the matter.
Imran said there was a "huge responsibility" on SC judges, as he went on to ask where in a democracy peaceful protests were not allowed and demonstrators had to face tear-gas shelling, police raids and arrests.
He claimed that five PTI protesters were killed in clashes after the PTI's march, saying that one had fallen off the Attock bridge amid tear-gas shelling and the other was pushed into Ravi river. He said he had also received information that three were killed in Karachi.
Addressing the SC, he asked, "What crime were we committing?" He said he "wants justice for the people of Pakistan from Supreme Court judges and the lawyers' community".
"I am again asking the judiciary to save your FIA (Federal Investigation Agency). In the future, no FIA officer will investigate the powerful if he will meet the same end as Dr Rizwan and Asghar," he added. Imran said peaceful protest was the right of every Pakistan and no one "gives you (the government) the right to treat the people in the manner that you treated them".
The PTI chief said he and the entire nation was looking to the judiciary after what had happened during the past 48 hours.
He lauded female PTI protesters for participating in the "struggle for real freedom". He further lauded the protesters for their "stamina and patriotism".
After Imran's speech, Dawn.com spoke to police officials who said he departed afterwards. It is not clear at this point where he left for.
Members of the government, however, were quick to declare victory, with Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique saying Imran "ran away after spreading chaos". He tweeted that the government "has fulfilled its responsibility to prevent rebellion", and now all eyes are on the "most important pillars of the state" to ensure justice.
"The nation is watching [to see] how saboteurs and their masterminds who take undue advantage of court orders treated? I have heard that justice is blind."
In Karachi, DawnNewsTV reported that PTI protesters holding a demonstration at Karachi's Numaish had dispersed peacefully, following Imran's talk.
Later, the PTI lauded that "bravery of marchers who stayed despite shelling and tear gas attacks".
"But most celebrated thing was breaking barriers to get to D-Chowk; we defeated them!" the party said in a tweet.
The PTI chairman had entered Islamabad in the early hours of Thursday and marched towards D-Chowk, while the federal government authorised the deployment of the army in Red Zone to "protect important government buildings".
People have 'rejected' riots
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, meanwhile, said the people "have completely rejected the riots". In a statement posted on PML-N's official Twitter account, Sanaullah was quoted as saying he had been personally monitoring the security situation.
"Imran Niazi entered the city after getting permission from the Supreme Court to hold a rally at a designated place in Islamabad and broke his promise by announcing plans to go to D-Chowk."
He added that metro bus stations and trees "were set on fire". "Under the cover of the Supreme Court's decision, the mob continued to light fires all night," he added. He also said throughout the night "Imran sahab kept committing contempt of court from the container".
Govt authorises deployment of army
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah tweeted a notification saying the government was "pleased to authorise the deployment" of the army in Red Zone under Article 245 of the Constitution.
Among the buildings that will be protected are the Supreme Court, Parliament House, Prime Minister House, Presidency, Pakistan Secretariat and Diplomatic enclaves," the notification said.
Later, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry tweeted that Imran would be addressing the protesters at the Centaurus bridge.
Protesters at D-Chowk face intense police shelling
While Imran's convoy, which began the journey from Swabi's Wali Interchange, was en route to D-Chowk via the Srinagar Highway, a batch of his party workers and supporters were already present at the planned destination in the face of intense police shelling.
Earlier on Monday, during a brief stopover in Hasan Abdal approximately 50 kilometres away from the capital, Imran reiterated that he and his supporters would not vacate D-Chowk until a date for new elections was announced by the "imported government".
The PTI leader claimed that when his caravan reaches its destination, the police would also come to realise that his mission is about "jihad and not politics". Later, a video shared on PTI's official account showed police officials waving and welcoming Imran's caravan on its way to D-Chowk.
The PTI's march towards the D-Chowk and the shelling of teargas by police took place despite the Supreme Court directives for the former to hold its protest in Islamabad's H-9 area and orders for the government to not make arrests or use force in connection with the march.
According to Islamabad police, eight personnel of police and seven of Rangers had been injured as protesters hurled stones.
The details were shared by the police in a late-night tweet on Monday.
Police accused of using expired tear gas on women, children
Earlier, as the PTI's Azadi March began, tensions in Punjab rose after police made use of tear gas and arrested several PTI marchers in cities across the province as activists attempted to remove shipping containers blocking routes to Islamabad.
Senior journalist Hamir Mir, on his Twitter account, claimed to have received a message from PTI leader Dr Shireen Mazari in which she claimed that the tear gas fired on women and children by the police was "expired".
"Use of expired tear gas is not only violation of court orders but it’s a terrorism against Pakistani citizens by Rana Sanaullah," he quoted Mazari as saying. Mazari retweeted Mir's tweet in an apparent confirmation of her claim.
Imran urges 'all Pakistanis' to take to the streets
Meanwhile, in an earlier video message, Imran asked "all Pakistanis" to take to the streets in their respective cities and said people heading to Islamabad must reach D-Chowk.
"I will make it there in a couple of hours." He also appealed to women and children to come out of their homes for "real independence". Imran said it was "good news" that the Supreme Court had decided that no one would be arrested during the march.
"Your collective presence will send a message across Pakistan that the nation has rejected this imported government."
Earlier, around 6pm, the main convoy from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which includes Imran, was able to enter Punjab from Attock after successfully removing barricades placed by the Punjab government at the Attock bridge to stop marchers from entering the province.
Some prominent PTI leaders, including Fawad Chaudhry and Shireen Mazari, also urged supporters to make their way to the capital's D-Chowk, saying that all containers and blockades on the way had been removed.
There were reports of intense shelling in Islamabad's Blue Area, with television footage showing smoke rising from the ground and fires in the green belts adjacent to main roads. The government claimed that the PTI supporters had set the fires whereas the claim from the PTI camp was that the fires were a result of police shelling. Neither claim could be independently verified.
These developments came a day after the PTI chairman exhorted his supporters to embark on their march for "true freedom" towards Islamabad as the government said it would not allow the march. In response, Imran had called on the youth to remove the obstacles themselves.
Imran had earlier today arrived at the Wali Interchange in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by helicopter. Footage of Imran arriving at the interchange showed PTI activists converging on the chopper.
Later, he departed for Islamabad from the Wali Interchange, from where the PTI tweeted a photo of him waving to supporters atop a truck adorned with party colours.
Imran also urged protesters to carry the Pakistani flag, calling today's march a "defining moment" for Pakistan.
Meanwhile, internet disruptions were reported across Pakistan in the evening.
'No blockade can stop us'
After reaching Swabi, Imran, holding a Pakistan flag, delivered a speech to supporters saying that "we are going to D-Chowk and no one can stop us" as the crowd cheered.
Calling the incumbent government a "group of thieves", he termed them the most corrupt people in the country and said that they were afraid of the masses which was why they had placed containers.
He said protesters were being detained and harassed as they participated in the Azadi March. Addressing politicians of the ruling coalition, Imran said that the PTI government did not bar any of them from staging protests as it "did not fear the people".
He asserted that the government was afraid as they had been plundering national wealth for the past 30 years. "I want to give these people a message from Swabi Interchange: whatever you do, we will cross all obstacles and reach D-Chowk. Our protest will be peaceful as it has always been."
Imran maintained that staging a protest was the party's right, adding that he would unite the country and make it a nation. "This nation does not accept this imported government," he declared, calling on the people to come out for what he has described of late as a "jihad" for "true freedom".
"All Pakistanis, women, children, families, youth, lawyers, retired army officers, everyone has to come out for real independence," he said.
Meanwhile, other party leaders departed from their respective locations, with Hammad Azhar, Yasmin Rashid and some others from Lahore, while Shahid Khattak departed from Karak. PTI's Fayyazul Hasan Chohan could be seen on television footage departing for Islamabad on a motorcycle.
'Absolutely no' deal, say Imran and govt
Meanwhile, government spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb and Imran rubbished news reports of a deal among the two parties.
Aurangzeb said no agreement was reached between the federal government and the PTI. "News of negotiations and agreement between the government and PTI is baseless". She added that no agreement could be reached with an "armed group that martyred a police personnel".
About half an hour later, Imran too rubbished the reports as "rumours and deliberate disinformation". "Absolutely not!" He said the party was moving towards Islamabad and would remain in the capital until "dates for dissolution of assemblies and elections are given". He also urged supporters from Islamabad and Rawalpindi to embark on the march.
Teams formed on SC orders to hold talks: Sanaullah
At a press conference, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif "must have formed a negotiation team" by now in light of the Supreme Court order on a petition filed by the PTI earlier in the day. He said the PTI had already formed its team led by Dr Babar Awan. The minister said the situation in Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh was relatively peaceful, adding it was just KP where protesters were using state machinery and heading towards Islamabad.
He said the government would abide by the court's order for upholding peace and the law and order situation in the country.
Sanaullah said police had carried out a total of 4,417 swoops on PTI supporters' homes, offices and on protest rallies and had arrested nearly 1,700 people. Of those, 250 were freed after they submitted affidavits that they had nothing to do with the protest march, he said.
The interior minister said the PTI's march had failed as it could not gather the support the party's leadership was claiming. According to him, only a few hundred people had come out in support of PTI at various places in Punjab, adding that he was "embarrassed" at the measures he had asked forces to take because "we had been deceived by their tall claims".
The minister apologised to the people for causing disruption in their daily lives.
Maryam says march has failed
Meanwhile, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz claimed that the PTI had approached the government twice for talks. She said PTI leaders Pervez Khattak and Fawad Chaudhry had approached the government yesterday and Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Asad Umar and Khattak today at 10am.
Addressing a press conference in Lahore, she claimed the PTI had asked for an election date to "save face and get a safe exit since the people hadn't responded to the march's call as per the PTI's expectations".
Maryam claimed that the turnout for the PTI's march was low and had unnecessarily consumed the government's energy and attention which was expecting a bigger response.
She also alleged that Imran was trying to create division and discord in the army.
Maryam's claim of PTI approaching the government for talks was swiftly rejected by Fawad Chaudhry, who said she was a "liar", adding that "there will be no negotiations now, just a showdown".
Shelling at KP-Punjab border after cranes brought to move containers
Meanwhile, police fired tear gas at protesters near the Chacch Interchange in Hazro town of Attock district. According to Dawn's correspondent who was present at the scene, the protesters had brought a crane and were attempting to remove the containers that were blocking the way.
Footage from the scene showed protesters covering their faces and running from the scene as smoke billowed in the background after police fired tear gas shells in an attempt to disperse them.
"We are peaceful and were trying to remove the hurdles when Punjab police resorted to tear gas shelling," PTI worker Shabir Ahmed said, adding that the protesters would not return or move at any cost.
Separately, the PTI had earlier tweeted that the party's south KP convoy, led by Ali Amin Gandapur, was "well on its way" towards Islamabad after the blockades faced at the Punjab-KP border were "crossed successfully".
Jamshed Cheema held in Lahore; police try to nab Hammad Azhar
DawnNewsTV reported that police attempted to arrest Hammad Azhar in Lahore. Footage showed scuffles between supporters and police as they tried to arrest Azhar, who could be seen wearing a red cap in footage broadcast on TV.
After 1:50pm, the police resumed shelling and fired tear gas near the Aiwan-e-Adal. Four lawyers were also arrested, while 10 to 12 cars were reportedly damaged.
Dawn.com was able to confirm that another PTI leader, Jamshed Iqbal Cheema, was arrested in Lahore and was moved to an undisclosed location. In a brief video message, he said they were living in a country of 220 million people and all of them would exercise their "democratic rights".
Meanwhile, DawnNewsTV reported that Dr Rashid and Andaleeb Abbas were arrested from Ravi Road and subsequently released.
Earlier, footage emerged of police personnel charging at marchers at Lahore's Bati chowk. Ten people were arrested after the clashes.
Dawn.com saw footage of clashes and scuffles between the protesters and the policemen as activists converged in the area to begin their march on Islamabad. The videos showed policemen stopping PTI supporters from moving forward and making use of tear gas.
According to the PTI's official Twitter account, marchers were also stopped at the Shahdara area.
In a later tweet, the party said the shipping container placed in Shahdara had been removed.
At the Niazi Chowk too, PTI workers removed impediments and marched forward.
Meanwhile, another PTI caravan led by Hammad Azhar managed to get across the obstacles and crossed Lahore. He was on GT Road on his way to Islamabad.
Later in the evening, Azhar shared a video of himself on Twitter with a cut on his eyebrow. He said that instead of firing tear gas shells into the air, officials were throwing them at their faces.
Earlier in the day, when he was in Lahore, Azhar said the impediments and containers on Bati Chowk, Ravi Bridge and Shahdara had been removed and the roads had been cleared by "the public".
Later, Azhar said Kala Shah Kaku, some 11km north of Ravi Bridge, was under "heavy shelling".
Azhar's rally had reached Muridke while the caravan led by Shafqat Mahmood had been stuck to cross the Bati chowk.
In Lahore, the police also baton-charged protesters near the Aiwan-e-Adal. The marchers were, however, later dispersed. Clashes between the police and protesters were also reported in other areas of Lahore such as Islampura, Karim Park, Mohni road and Badami Bagh.
Later in the night, PTI protesters, including families and children, had gathered at Lahore's Liberty Chowk for a peaceful demonstration but police fired tear gas at them. Distressing footage from the area, shared on social media, showed children crying and running away from the smoke.
Yasmin Rashid's car comes under attack at Bati chowk
Separately, Dawn.com saw footage showing police stopping leader Yasmin Rashid's vehicle in Lahore. An exchange of words could also be seen after police reportedly attempted to yank out the key of the vehicle she was travelling in.
Video aired by broadcasters showed police landing blows on a vehicle — purportedly Rashid's — as it tried to pass through a cordon. A non-uniformed individual with his face covered could also be seen in the footage, hitting the vehicle forcefully.
Rashid in a statement, said the windshield of her vehicle was broken by the police. She said that she faced difficulty in leaving the area, but was now on the way to Islamabad. "This government has lost its senses. I am an 80-year-old woman. Why are they threatened of me? How is stopping a peaceful protest democratic?"
Rashid, who is a cancer survivor, added that despite everything, the enthusiasm of the workers was at its peak.
Later, the PTI tweeted a video of the vehicle with its windshield broken as Rashid was in the driver's seat.
In Lahore, the marchers had reached the Ravi Road interchange, some 362km from Islamabad.
DawnNewsTV reported roadblocks in Faisalabad, Gujranwala and other cities in Punjab, with shelling on PTI supporters trying to cross these.
LHC orders release of detained people
Meanwhile, the Lahore High Court (LHC) ordered police to release all detained people after obtaining an undertaking from them assuring they would not indulge in any illegal activity or violate the law.
LHC Chief Justice Muhammad Ameer Bhatti issued the order while hearing a petition of PTI Senator Ejaz Chaudhry and six others against the detention of party leaders. Lahore Capital City Police Officer Bilal Siddique Kamyana told the court that the senator had not been taken into custody. Chaudhry's counsel said his client was released after the court took notice of his arrest.
The chief justice remarked that the release of detained people was more important than the politics. He said the police had been deployed for the protection of the public, adding the law enforcers had expressed apprehensions that a mob could vandalise public property as seen in protests in the past.
He also said the principles of politics were not being followed.
A faceoff was reported between PTI supporters and the police in Gujranwala when the latter tried to stop them with barricades near Khanki Headworks. However, the marchers forced their way through the obstructions and move ahead.
The caravan, led by Chaudhry Ahmed Chatha, was on its way to Islamabad.
According to PTI's Gujranwala General Secretary, Tariq Gujjar, 150 people from the caravan were taken into custody.
Ali Asjad Malhi arrested in Daska
On the other hand, PTI district president Ali Asjad Malhi left Daska with supporters in a caravan.
Earlier, the police raided Malhi's house, where party leaders had gathered, and tried to arrest him under Section 144. Later, DawnNewsTV reported Malhi had been arrested.
Activists break through wall in Faisalabad
PTI supporters and the police also clashed at the Kamalpur Interchange in Faisalabad. The marchers, however, advanced after breaking through the wall of the Faisalabad Development Authority (FDA).
Police officers also tried to stop the party workers near the motorway after which a scuffle broke out between both groups.
Aside from Gujranwala, Sadhoke, Chenab Bridge, Khanki Headway and the city area have been completely blocked.
At 1:32pm, PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry tweeted that after shelling marchers, a shot had been fired on them in Mangla — a village situated on the border of Kashmir and Jhelum — some 120km from Islamabad.
In another video, Chaudhry, who is allegedly stuck on the Mangla bridge, said that three PTI workers suffered severe injuries due to shelling by the police. "Several cars have suffered damage too. The Punjab police entered the jurisdiction of Kashmir and shelled us," he said.
"But more people are coming. And I want to appeal to the people of Jhelum and Kashmir to join us at the Mangla bridge. We will head to Islamabad from here," Chaudhry added.
Earlier, the former information minister had said that the Mangla bridge was blocked by the police.
Police blocked the Niazi Chowk in Bani Gala, a few kilometres away from Imran's residence, DawnNewsTV reported. The Islamabad police established a checkpost there, while approximately 2,000 Punjab police officers were posted.
Meanwhile, PTI supporters in Karachi started gathering near the Numaish Chowrangi to "register their demand for immediate, free & fair elections".
"Karachi is about to make its own Azadi Square as Kaptaan's caravan and other rallies head towards Islamabad," PTI tweeted.
In the evening, police fired tear gas and baton-charged PTI protesters at the chowrangi after hundreds of them gathered at the spot. Scores of protesters were dispersed following police action and were forced to seek shelter in nearby lanes. However, the protest hasn't yet been called off.
Earlier, Karachi traffic police said that the MA Jinnah Road from Capri Cinema towards Numaish Chowrangi had been blocked over "security reasons". Corridor 3 has also been closed for traffic from the PPP Chowrangi.
Ahead of Imran's departure, he called on all of Pakistan to join his freedom march. He also released a video statement in which he said that he is starting his march from Peshawar and reaching Wali Interchange. He urged his supporters to reach Islamabad.
"I will lead the Azadi March caravan from there and God willing we will head to Islamabad from there. I want each and everyone to leave because this is a defining moment," he added.
This is a developing story that is being updated as the situation evolves. Initial reports in the media can sometimes be inaccurate. We will strive to ensure timeliness and accuracy by relying on credible sources such as concerned, qualified authorities and our staff reporters.