Pakistan's former prime minister Imran Khan (on the vehicle) along with supporters take part in a rally in Swabi on May 25, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

Islamabad: Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan is leading his party’s long-awaited protest in Islamabad amid strict restrictions by the government.

Internet disruptions were also reported in several major cities of the country.

Khan vowed to vanquish all hurdles on roads where the authorities have placed hundreds of shipping containers and trucks to block off major roads into the capital city and deployed thousands of police officials all over the country. “We will overcome all obstacles to reach D Chowk Islamabad. Our protest will be peaceful as it has always been,” said the defiant Imran Khan after reaching Swabi, which is nearly 2 hours drive away from Islamabad.

Khan is leading a massive rally to force the new coalition government into calling early elections and said he would continue protest until the date for elections is announced.

Khan waves to suporters upon arriving on a helicopter to lead a protest rally in Swabi on May 25, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

He denied the reports of an agreement between PTI and the PMLN-led government and termed it “disinformation” saying: “We will remain in Islamabad till the announcement of dates for dissolution of assemblies and elections are given.”

The government decided to stop PTI’s long march from entering the federal capital by all means and denied permission for the protest. “They (PTI leaders) will not be allowed to promote their agenda of dividing the nation,” Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said. The government launched a crackdown on PTI supporters ahead of the march, arrest-ing hundreds across the country.

Clashes between the PTI protesters and police continued throughout the day in several cities of Punjab as well as Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Local media aired videos showing intense tear gas shelling and baton beating by police in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Jhelum, Mianwali and other cities in Punjab to disperse pro-testors. Scores of protestors were injured during the clashes. Police also arrested sev-eral PTI marchers across the Punjab province. PTI leaders Dr Yasmeen Rashid and Andaleeb Abbas were briefly detained in Lahore.

Supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) run with batons amid the tear gas smoke fired by police to prevent them from attending the protest march in Rawalpindi. Image Credit: Reuters

Road blockades

Police and district officials blocked the highway entrances with containers and con-crete blocks. Major hurdles were put up over the Attock bridge which connects Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa from where Khan’s caravan was set to enter to proceed to-wards Islamabad.

By Wednesday evening, the protesters removed the containers using excavators and cranes and cleared the way at Attock bridge for the caravan to pass through.

On Wednesday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court while hearing a petition to remove the blockades into Islamabad asked the PMLN-led government and opposition PTI to resolve the issue to avoid confrontation. PTI lawyer Babar Awan said that party chairman Imran Khan demanded to remove road blockades, release detained PTI workers, and end police raids at houses of PTI supporters.

Awan also asked the court to intervene against the tear gas shelling by the authorities on the protesters. Justice Ijazul Ahsan directed the Islamabad chief commissioner to arrange an alternate venue for PTI’s long march and devise a traffic plan to allow people to reach the venue.

Imran Khan has been holding public rallies since his government was ousted from power in a no-confidence vote on April 10. ” He has vowed to hold protests until fresh elections are announced.