PTI Chairman Imran Khan on Friday told his supporters to call off the protests being staged across the country against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP)’s decision to disqualify him in the Toshakhana reference.
In a pre-recorded message aired on TV, the PTI chief lashed out at the ruling coalition for attempting to “silence” him. He also stated that he had anticipated the verdict, accusing the chief election commissioner of being biased.
However, he softened his tone at the end of his address, telling his supporters to call off the protests being staged across the country.
Vowing to fight these “thieves” until his last breath, Imran said: “I am asking all protesters to end their demonstrations because people are in difficulty.”
At the same time, he urged his supporters to gear up for the party’s long march. “I had said I will hold a long march by the end of the month. I will hold the biggest protest […] My movement for real freedom will continue until supremacy of law is established.”
Imran said that Pakistan was at a decisive moment. “Allah wants us to rise against these thieves. We can’t get rid of these thieves until we prepare to struggle against them.”
He ended his address by saying that he will give the call for the long march.
Imran’s statement came after enraged PTI supporters took the streets in major cities across the country against the electoral watchdog’s decision to disqualify the former premier.
In Islamabad, a large number of PTI workers and supporters converged on Faizabad Interchange where police resorted to tear gas shelling to prevent the protesters from marching towards Islamabad.
The workers blocked the main road and set tyres ablaze, suspending traffic on the artery.
A few dozen protesters tried to block one key artery into Islamabad and were pushed back with teargas, said police official Sohail Khan.
He said that the protesters attacked the police with bricks, injuring three officials, and had tried unsuccessfully to block others roads in the capital as well.
Later in the evening, Islamabad police issued an update saying that the route from Faizabad towards Islamabad had been opened. “The route from Islamabad will also be opened soon,” police said, adding that some citizens were setting trees on fire and hampering the flow of traffic.
The PTI leadership present at the spot and other workers who are damaging the property have been identified, police said, adding that action would be taken in accordance with the law.
Earlier, Islamabad police said that citizens had the right to protest peacefully but blocking roads and damaging state property was against the law.
“The governments of other provinces are requested to stop the movement of illegal protests headed for the federal capital,” police said, adding that tear gas was being used in Faizabad in light of the situation.
Police also appealed to elders, women, and children to avoid unnecessary travel. “Citizens are requested to keep routes leading to hospitals open,” police added.
In Karachi, the PTI workers gathered outside the party’s office located on Sharea Faisal. A police contingent also reached the scene in order to pre-empt any untoward situation.
Traffic on the thoroughfare was disrupted as the number of protesters began to grow. Police also deployed water canons in light of the looming threat of violence.
Visuals shared by the party’s official Twitter account showed Ali Haider Zaidi and other leaders taking part in what it dubbed a “peaceful protest”.
Karachi Administrator Murtaza Wahab said the PTI’s protest against the ECP verdict was “beyond comprehension”. In a statement, he said the PTI must accept the electoral watchdog’s decision.
In Peshawar, groups of supporters, dozens each in size, blocked a number of key roads including the highway connecting the city to the capital Islamabad, to the dismay of drivers.
Visuals shared by the party’s official Twitter account showed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa minister Taimur Khan Jhagra leading a protest in Peshawar.
“I am going to our village for the weekend with my family and was waiting in the car for more than two hours as the roads are blocked by the PTI workers,” said Hameed Khan in Peshawar.
“We didn’t disqualify their leader, then why do they punish us?”
Sanaullah warns protesters against creating law and order situation
Earlier in the day, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had urged the PTI protesters to refrain from creating issues for the public by blocking roads and disrupting traffic.
Addressing a press conference in Islamabad, he called on the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa leadership to “solve the issues of the public and dispel the 20-30 followers of this thief”.
The minister said that he had asked the security agencies about the number of people participating in the protests, adding that they were not more than 50.
He termed the lack of public reaction to Imran’s disqualification as “deeply saddening”. He went on to ask the Punjab police and administration to “obey” the state instead of following Imran’s directives.
Sanaullah said that the protesters should approach the court against the ECP’s verdict, instead of creating difficulties for the public. “Do not punish the people for the sins and robbery that you have committed”, he added.
Additional input from Reuters