Imran Khan was up Thursday morning, day one of the second dharna of his life, at Jinnah Avenue right outside Islamabad despite stiff resistance from the government. His demand: call elections in six days.
"I want to give this imported government a message," he said from on top of his container. "I give you six days to announce elections. In the month of June, you should announce elections." He wants the assemblies dissolved. "If you don't do this after six days, I will bring my entire nation back to Islamabad."
"You still have time, you can't handle running the government. You are finishing off your corruption cases. This is why, six days, if you don't do this in six days, I will bring people back. And this time, there will be no hurdles because the Supreme Court has said no one will stop a peaceful protest. People will even come from Punjab. I want two million people in Islamabad."
He told his supporters to stay until the 'imported government' gives a final date for new elections. He was flanked by Asad Umar and Ali Haider Zaidi. After his initial address in the morning, Imran Khan was said to be headed to D Chowk, which is symbolically significant as it is on the road that leads to Parliament.
The government has filed a petition in the Supreme Court against Imran Khan for contempt of court as Khan defied court orders and directed the demonstrators to reach D-Chowk despite clear directions of the apex court.
The apex court has added the plea in a case filed by the Islamabad High Court Bar Association against the closure of roads ahead of PTI’s Long March to Islamabad. A larger Supreme Court bench will conduct hearing of the case at 11:30am on Thursday (today).
PTI demonstrators damaged private and public properties, including fire brigade vehicles costing millions of rupees. A contempt of court proceedings should be initiated against Khan considering the demands of justice, read the petition.
Multiple cases were registered against PTI leaders, including Jamshed Iqbal Cheema, Musarrat Cheema, Hassan Niazi and Zubair Niazi, and unknown people in Gulberg, Bhatti Gate, Shahdra and Islampur police stations.
They were booked for violence on police officials, kidnapping them, snatching anti-riot material from the officers and damaging public property in Lahore.
Following the announcement of a deadline to the government, PTI demonstrators at Karachi's Numaish and Islamabad's D-Chowk dispersed. While those who have entered the Red Zone also left the area.
The protest in Karachi continued for at least 14 hours.
At least 30 PTI activists were still in Islamabad raising slogans against the government, while FC and police officials of other cities who were on duty since Wednesday, have started leaving the Capital city. Currently, the situation in the federal capital is relatively peaceful.
Convoys from Hazara division and other areas had arrived a day earlier as had supporters in Islamabad. By Wednesday other convoys had reached Khyber Plaza, the blue zone, as well.
FC and police are deployed at the Red Zone behind the containers blocking it off, and they have orders to completely prevent the PTI from entering. The security for this area has been handed over the army for important establishments. Imran Khan is said to be first headed to KP House and then the plan, as PTI sources have said, is to head to D Chowk.
The tear gas shelling continued all night but abated towards the morning. The tear gas shelling was so severe that the entire area was engulfed and the elderly, women and children who were in the convoy suffered immensely. The police action further angered the party activists. It was difficult to breathe even by the morning. The workers set fire to trees in the night in the belief that the smoke would counter tear gas.
The security forces were deputed to all important installations or buildings in Islamabad. Imran Khan's container is about 3km from the red zone. At night, when workers tried to enter the red zone, they were pushed back by the police. Workers tried to remove containers so they could enter the red zone.
In Karachi, there was a dharna at Numaish all night by PTI workers. It ended Thursday morning.
There was talk of negotiations from the government's side with a four-member team deputed to engage with the PTI. However, reports from Wednesday night indicated that no one from the PTI took part in talks.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah tweeted: "The federal government is pleased to authorize deployment of sufficient strength of troops of Pakistan Army in Red Zone under Article 245."
Imran while addressing supporters in Hassan Abdal, some 50 kms outside the federal capital, said: "Those who cannot make to Islamabad should turn out in their respective cities."
Numaish in Karachi and Liberty Chowk in Lahore are the two convergence points for PTI supporters who cannot make it to Islamabad.
Top court orders venue change
While the Supreme Court has permitted the PTI to hold its rally in Islamabad, it ordered a change of venue from Islamabad's D-Chowk. The top court ordered the Islamabad chief commissioner to provide a ground between H-9 and G-9 near the Peshawar Morr as the venue.
The apex court also ordered authorities to release all PTI workers arrested without the registration of a first information report, while instructing the government and the PTI to hold talks to resolve the ongoing political crisis.
Consultation and boycott
The Supreme Court ordered the government and PTI to hold talks at 10pm on Wednesday to resolve the current political crisis.
The PTI team was at the office of the chief commissioner as per the top court's order but left after government representatives failed to show up.
The government delegation showed up later, according to Aaj News, but by that the time PTI delegation had already left.
PML-N Ayaz Sadiq, who was reportedly contacted by the PTI and is part of the government-nominated team for the talks, said that the PTI had boycotted the talks.
Shelling in Lahore, Islamabad
Police fired tear gas at PTI supporters gathered at Liberty Chowk in Lahore on Wednesday night. The escalation comes following a lull in the evening after a day of pitched battles between PTI supporters and police.
Similar incidents were reported from Islamabad as PTI workers continued to move towards D-Chowk as the Imran-led cavalcade entered the federal capital.
No blockade can stop us: Imran
Irked by the government’s actions to curb the long march, PTI chief Imran Khan said that no blockade could stop his party from reaching D-Chowk in Islamabad.
“Servants of America and most corrupt people have placed containers across the country to stop our people [from joining the long march],” he said to a charged crowd at the Swabi interchange as the former premier leads a convoy towards Islamabad.
The Lahore police used tear gas against PTI workers, who were heading towards GT Road that connects to Islamabad, videos on social media and TV showed, as party workers responded to chief Imran Khan’s call to march towards the federal capital.
The vehicle of PTI leader Yasmin Rashid, who was leading the protest in Lahore's Batti chowk, came under attack from police as well as men in plainclothes wielding sticks.
Video of the incident, shared widely on social media, shows another woman driving the car while the former Punjab health minister in the passenger seat with another woman visible in the backseat. A heated exchange ensues between the driver and the police.
Another video showed the vehicle escaping from another baton charge by a horde of policemen as well as those in plainclothes.
Later, visuals showed the vehicle's cracked windscreen.
Hammad Azhar 'rescued'
PTI workers foiled an attempt by the police to take party leader Hammad Azhar into custody from Muridke city in Sheikhupura district.
Policemen tried to grab Azhar, who was leading PTI workers. It resulted in a scuffle with PTI workers able to rescue Azhar from the police after which they moved him to safety.
Imran Ismail, Fayyaz Chauhan escape on bikes
PTI's Imran Ismail and Fayyaz Chauhan were captured on video while on motorbikes to escape the police in Islamabad.
According to updates, the two PTI leaders have arrived at Lal Haveli, the residence of Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid, a PTI ally.
The Supreme Court has ordered the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf to devise an alternate plan for the long march and directed the respondents to present the suggestion before the court at 2:30pm.
'We will get real freedom'
“I am starting my long march from Peshawar. I am reaching Wali interchange. I will lead this freedom caravan from there. And then we will head towards Islamabad,” PTI chief Imran Khan said in a video message before leaving for Swabi.
Meanwhile, reports of police shelling PTI workers in Lahore poured in with party workers saying several people had passed out because of it.
Karachi roadblocks, PTI worker arrested
Roads leading to Numaish, a key interchange and protest point in Karachi, have been barricaded with containers while police have been deployed at various points.
This comes ahead of PTI's planned protest at Numaish in solidarity with the party's long march to Islamabad.
The key MA Jinnah Road connecting Numaish to the city's business district has been barricaded, resulting in spillover of traffic on alternate routes.
School children returning from school and ambulances rushing to hositals have been the worst affected due to the bottlenecks on alternate routes.
A PTI worker identified as Sadia has been arrested from Numaish. She was among a handful of women workers of the party present at the venue.
'No deal between PTI, govt'
Federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb has denied media reports of a deal between the federal governmetn and the PTI on the issue of the Islamabad long march.
Several media channels had reported the deal, saying that Imran Khan had agreed to return after the dharna (protest).
"There has been no agreement between the federal government and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. News of negotiations and agreement between the government and PTI is baseless," tweeted the government spokesperson.
"We haven't come to any agreement with the armed group that martyred police personnel."
Imran Khan labelled reports regarding the deal as deliberate misinformation and rumor mongering.
"Absolutely not. We are moving towards Islamabad and (there is) no question of any deal," he tweeted.
"We will remain in Islamabad till announcement of dates for dissolution of assemblies & elections are given," stated the tweet with a call to action asking supporters from Islamabad & Rawalpindi to join the march.
Tightening the noose
As announced a day earlier, the government on Wednesday (today) started to block the entry and exit points in major cities of the country and continued to arrest PTI leaders as Imran Khan-led party workers march towards Islamabad for ‘Azadi March’ in protest against the new government.
PTI chairperson Imran Khan announced the long march on May 25 in Islamabad in a press conference in Peshawar on Sunday. Imran reiterated that a “foreign conspiracy” was hatched to topple his government, lamenting that they couldn’t stop it from succeeding.
Reacting to the call, the government on Tuesday launched a crackdown on PTI leaders late on Monday night, despite the Centre’s claim that it would tolerate protests as long as they were peaceful. Video footage, which was not verified by Aaj News, purportedly showed that police in Lahore and Karachi were raiding PTI leaders' houses and arresting them. Condemning the action, the former ruling party claimed that the police have made a list of those who they consider would create problems.
The federal cabinet later on Tuesday decided not to give permission to the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf to organise a long march in Islamabad, citing the 2014 sit-in of the former ruling as the reason. As expected, PTI’s Imran condemned the decision and sought help from the judiciary and “neutrals (an apparent reference to the military)” in a presser in Peshawar.
The federal government as well as the governments of Sindh and Punjab have already imposed a ban on gatherings under Section 144 (which authorises the executive magistrate of any state or territory to issue an order to prohibit the assembly of four or more people in an area) of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Exams in Lahore and Islamabad have been postponed in view of the cities' situation because of the PTI long march.
Scenes from Islamabad show that containers have been placed on entry and exit points of the city, creating problems for the thousands of daily commuters who take the routes for performing their routine work. The Faizabad interchange, which connects the twin cities, has also been blocked by the government. The government sealed Red Zone, which includes the D-Chowk, on Tuesday and Margalla Road for traffic. The Jhelum Road, which joins Peshawar and Islamabad, is also sealed.
As many as 22,000 Frontier Corps and Rangers personnel have been deployed in Islamabad to assist the capital city police in performing their duties.
Imran Khan will leave from the Kashmir Highway and lead towards D-Chowk.
Lahore police have arrested two PTI leaders, Aijaz Chaudhry and Mian Mehmoodur Rashid, as part of its crackdown on the former ruling party. Sources said that police in civil dress raided Chaudhry’s house in Model Town and held them after busting the door of his house. They have taken Chaudhry to an unidentified location.
“As many as 162 people – including Aijaz Chaudhry and Mian Mehmoodur Rashid – have been arrested under the Section 16 (Dissemination of rumours, etc) of Punjab Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) Ordinance, 1960,” Lahore police DIG Operations Sohail Chaudhry said while addressing a press conference in Police Lines.
The police have recovered arms recovered from a house.
The DIG added that protest was the legal right of everyone however stressed the need for keeping human lives in mind while mentioning the impact of last sit-in of a religious party in the city.
He advised everyone to perform their duties under the law.
Roads inside Lahore give a deserted look, according to updates by noon. However, the entry and exit points of Lahore are blocked. Containers, filled with goods, have been placed on Ravi Bridge to block it. So far, police are not on such routes.
In the wake of such curbs, the PTI leadership has directed workers to hide their identities and travel to the federal capital in small cities.
Karachi police on late Tuesday arrested Insaf Student Federation information secretary Bilal Zaman from the Gulshan-e-Iqbal area. They have also held seven PTI workers, including Shakur Shad coordinator. MNA Aftab Jehangir’s nephew was also arrested after a police raid at his house.
A heavy contingent of police has been deployed at Karachi’s Numaish in view of the possible protest and sit-in in the city.
Former prime minister Imran Khan would lead the PTI protest from Swabi. Whereas the group from Peshawar would depart at 10am.
Islamabad motorway and the GT Road have been closed, according to the updates by noon, prompting a large number of travellers to arrive at the railway station. Most of the passengers belong to Rawalpindi and Lahore.
PTI workers, including differently able people, reached the Peshawar toll plaza in the early morning and vowed to Islamabad at “all cost”. The workers looked zealous for the long march. Moreover, they have expressed concerns over the party workers' arrest in Punjab.
Imran would arrive at Swabi via special helicopter, which is for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan. Then, he would head towards Islamabad via container.
More to follow