ISLAMABAD: Opposition leader Imran Khan called for nationwide protests on Friday after dozens of activists from his party were arrested, adding to political deadlock ahead of his plans to shut down the capital next week.
Khan plans to stage major protests to paralyze the capital on Wednesday in what he described as a final push to force Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign or face investigation over corruption allegations.
Police on Thursday swooped on an indoor youth rally by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in Islamabad, beating activists with batons and detaining 38 people.
Police said the rally contravened a city order issued hours earlier to ban all public gatherings in the capital ahead of next week’s protests. “Police manhandled our women and our boys.
Because of that, Imran Khan has called for nationwide protests,” a spokeswoman from PTI’s media team said. Khan has vowed to contest orders banning public gatherings in court but has hinted his supporters would march on the capital next week regardless of what the judiciary decides.
A top administrative official in Rawalpindi, next to Islamabad, has also banned protests in the city. Khan is also due to attend a rally for a political ally, Sheikh Rashid of the Awami Muslim League, on Friday afternoon in Rawalpindi.
Officials, however, appear to be resolute that the ban will be enforced, setting PTI on a collision course with authorities. “It is not legal to hold a gathering (in Rawalpindi) right now, so we will try to stop him if he tries to go there,” said Mushtaq Ahmed, the top administrative official in Islamabad.
Naeem Iqbal, a police spokesman, said that police had been deployed to surround Khan’s Islamabad home. Khan has warned officials that arresting him would only enrage his supporters and bolster his party’s resolve to lock down Islamabad. Authorities have blocked main roads leading to the Rawalpindi rally with shipping containers.
The rally site has also been obstructed by trucks and containers, blocking PTI supporters from gathering en masse. Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Ahmed said PTI would need a permission in the form of a “No Objection Certificate” (NOC) if it plans to host any events, including Wednesday’s shutdown strike.
“You need an NOC for anything – whether its a media function or a marriage function. Even for a birthday party of more than five people, you need an NOC,” he told Reuters.
Khan has said next week’s protests will bring a million people to the streets. He has said that sit-ins would force the closure of schools, public offices and the main international airport.
The ruling party has dismissed Khan’s plans to shut down Islamabad as a desperate move by a politician whose popularity is waning ahead of the next general election, likely to be held in May 2018.
“Pakistan is going towards becoming a developed country, and the opposition is worried that if this system of development continues until 2018, then by then their politics will be finished,” said PM Sharif at a gathering of party workers on Friday.