PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Saturday warned his party workers and supporters of being wary of rigging during the upcoming by-polls in Punjab, now that "the umpires" stand on the government's side.
Imran expressed these concerns during a public gathering of his party at Islamabad's Parade Ground against inflation, political destabilisation, excessive load-shedding and continued hikes in fuel prices.
"We have 20 by-elections [coming up] in Punjab. The only way they can win is through rigging. The people are against them, [but] the umpires are with them," he said.
"We have to defeat these thieves despite their umpires."
"No matter what tactic they use ... whether they rig the election or use the police, the nation will never accept them," Imran said referring to the government, which he often dubs as "imported" and claims that it was imposed on the country by the US after ousting his own government through a "conspiracy".
He had announced tonight's gathering last Saturday, saying that the demonstration would be held for Islamabad locals and those from Rawalpindi, while people from other major cities would have their own local protests.
At the start of his speech, Imran explained why he had chosen to end his long march on May 26. "I knew there would be anarchy that evening and people would have come face to face with the police and the Rangers," he said. "[This] nation, the police, the Rangers [all ] are mine. I don't want to spread anarchy within my nation. I had set out just for one purpose: imported govt unacceptable.
"I had set out for one reason, and that was to [show] all the institutions where nation is standing and what it wants and that it will never accept these thieves.
"I invited you all today because I wanted to prove that if they hadn't used force on May 25, then there would have been a sea of people in Islamabad and it would have said one thing: imported govt unacceptable."
Addressing his political rivals, he said he knew that they wanted him to fight the army and the judiciary but "listen closely, our life and death is in Pakistan."
He accused the government of melting under IMF's pressure within two months, saying that he resisted the Fund's demands for two and a half years but raised petrol prices by a mere Rs10 as opposed to the "sky high" hike made by the current setup.
Judiciary, 'neutrals' answerable to God for what's happening under their watch
Imran criticised the Sharif and Bhutto families, branded them "slaves and boot polishers" and held them responsible for the country's economic plight.
"My questions from Pakistan's institutions is that how did you allow these thieves to be foisted over us? Is it not your Pakistan? Don't you understand that when you place thieves atop the treasury, the country gets destroyed?"
The PTI chairman said the judiciary and the "neutrals" — a reference to the military establishment — will be answerable to God for what they had done. "God will ask judges, 'I gave u status to establish justice, did you do that or not, and did you protect the weak from the powerful, and did you bring powerful under law or not?
"God will also ask the neutrals that 'how did you allow these thieves to be imposed over this country?'"
Imran claimed that the public was against the PML-N led government and the only way it can win the upcoming by-elections in Punjab was by way of rigging as "the umpires are with them." "We have to defeat these thieves despite their umpires."
Imran condemned the assault on senior journalist Ayaz Amir the previous night by "unidentified men". "The violence done against him ... I strongly condemn it and I want to send a message that if you think you can scare people and foist these thieves over us, don't have this misunderstanding. Whoever thinks so does not know the Pakistani nation.
"The nation will only get angrier and in end the country will face a loss."
Addressing the crowd before Imran, Rashid termed July as an "important month", and called on the people to ensure the PTI's victory in the Punjab by-elections on July 17.
Addressing the country's institutions and the establishment, he also said that early elections were in the country's best interest.
PTI leader Pervez Khattak, meanwhile, said the current inflation in the country was the proving to be the "destruction" of the public. He questioned why important decisions were going in the government's favour and warned that "no one will be safe if any injustice happens with Imran."
Various social accounts associated with the PTI showed pictures of PTI gatherings held simultaneously in other cities.
The protest in Karachi was held at Seaview, with local leaders such as Imran Ismail and Ali Haider Zaidi in attendance.
Earlier today, PTI Secretary General Asad Umar today posted a photo of himself with fellow party leader Amir Mehmood Kiyani and Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid, saying that he was waiting for Imran to arrive and lead the rally from Rawalpindi.
Imran's protest is actually against himself: Ahsan Iqbal
Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said Imran's protest rally was actually against himself, as he blamed the PTI government for being responsible for inflation, power sector issues and other economic woes.
"Don't do a protest, [instead] apologise to the nation!"
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah promised to use "fresh" and "updated" tear gas against PTI supporters today "if the need arises", advising the participants not to give cause to such a situation.
In response to a question, he said that Imran should "correct" his matters and refrain from "creating rebellion and instability" in the country. "He should indulge in peaceful and national politics."
"All the political parties in the country at the moment are on one side, trying to solve the ongoing crises, while Imran Khan is busy abusing everyone and playing the politics of hatred," the minister said, underscoring the need for political consensus.
Power show goes ahead after GHQ grants permission
The power show at Parade Ground was made possible after the Staff Duties Directorate at the General Headquarters (GHQ) Rawalpindi granted the PTI the permission on Friday.
The office of the deputy commissioner informed the PTI Central Secretariat President Ali Nawaz Awan that the permission to use Parade Ground had been granted by the GHQ.
On Thursday, the deputy commissioner had issued a no-objection certificate (NOC) to the PTI to organise the public gathering at the Parade Ground but linked it to the permission from the GHQ.