ISLAMABAD/LAHORE/KARACHI/PESHAWAR: The government “launched a crackdown” on PTI leaders late on Monday night, a day before the former ruling party’s long march towards Islamabad, despite the Centre’s claim that it would tolerate protest as long as they were peaceful.
The interior ministry has directed the police to deal strictly with the PTI demonstrators while also asking for party leaders to be arrested. The police were conducting raids as per a list of PTI leaders, according to the former ruling party leadership.
The late-night action once again started the debate on the role of political parties when changing the sides in parliament.
The development came after the PML-N meeting at Model Town, Lahore. PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif also attended the meeting via video link.
PTI chairperson Imran Khan announced the long march on May 25 in Islamabad in a press conference in Peshawar on Sunday. He had earlier chaired a meeting of PTI’s core committee, Imran reiterated that a “foreign conspiracy” was hatched to topple his government, lamenting that they couldn’t stop it from succeeding.
Reacting to the announcement, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif claimed that the former premier was starting a civil war in the country. Former president Asif Ali Zardari had also called on JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and discussed the political atmosphere in the country.
Red Zone sealed
Ayub Chowk, Express Chowk, NADRA Chowk and Serena Chowk are closed for Red Zone entry and exit, according to the Islamabad police.
Only Margallah Road can be used for Red Zone entry and exit, it said and urged the people to avoid delays and keep a margin time of 15 to 20 minutes.
As many as 22,000 law enforcement agencies personnel will be deployed for the Red-Zone security, sources said as the government decided to hand over the area’s security to Rangers. Several containers shifted to the Attock bridge.
The Red Zone has been sealed, according to the updates by noon. The capital city administration has also sought help from other provinces under the plans to tighten security.
Around 100 prisoner vans have also been sought from provinces, in addition to this, tear gas shells have been given to the security personnel. The interior ministry has ordered the capital police and administration to complete all the security measures, warning disruptors of dire consequences.
Sources added that the operational police would be given prisoner vans, water cannon, and other items by Tuesday night. As many as 44 PTI workers have been arrested, they added.
The interior ministry has also summoned a meeting on the PTI long march.
Hammad Azhar, the former energy minister, tweeted on Monday night that Lahore police were at his house to arrest him. He claimed that they have arrested party workers standing outside his house. However, Azhar was not at home.
Former Punjab health minister Yasmeen Rashid reached Azhar’s residence and started a sit-in to protest against the police action, according to the video footage shared by PTI.
Similar raids were conducted at Aijaz Chaudhry, Raja Basharat, and Musarrat Cheema’s residences.
Former information minister Fawad Chaudhry said his house in Islamabad was being monitored and a raid was “being planned”.
“In view of the situation, I have left home and now I will reach Jhelum,” he said in a tweet.
Police in Karachi arrested PTI MPA Shahnawaz Jadoon’s brother and also conducted raids on other party leaders, Bilal Ghaffar and Arsalan Taj.
‘Fascist nature of PML-N when in power’
PTI chairperson Imran Khan described the crackdown on PTI leaders and workers in Punjab and Islamabad as “the fascist nature of PML-N when in power”.
“The present crackdown also raises serious questions about the handlers,” Imran said in a series of tweets.
“Already economy is in a tailspin. I want to warn the crooks & their handlers that these undemocratic & fascist steps will further exacerbate the economic situation & push the country into a state of anarchy.”
Imran supported his argument with the erstwhile opposition parties, PPP, PML-N, and JUI, being allowed to stage a protest in PTI’s tenure.
Peshawar – the starting point
The PTI has completed the long march plan, party chief Imran Khan would lead the protest. The PTI procession from Khyber district, Muhamand, and Peshawar would together leave from the Peshawar Interchange.
“Workers from across the country will participate in the PTI long march on May 25,” Zahir Shah Toru, the PTI KP information secretary told Aaj News.
Workers from Mardan, Charsadda, Nowshera, and Swabi will meet at the Swabi Interchange at 12 noon. Pervez Khattak, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, former governor Shah Farman, Atif Khan would join the PTI chief Imran Khan, who would lead the long march.
Toru further elaborated that Ali Amin Gandapur would lead the protest in the southern districts – including workers from Kohat, Orakzai, Kurram, and Hangu – at 8am. Together they will meet at Hakla Interchange.
Protest from the Malakand Divison would reach Swabi Interchange at 12 noon and the Hazara Division group would reach Burhan interchange.
“People who will stop our way will be responsible for their actions,” Toru said.