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Police officers stand guard next to shipping containers placed by authorities to block a road leading to important government buildings in an attempt to foil a planned rally by Pakistan's key opposition party, in Islamabad on May 24, 2022. Image Credit: AP

Islamabad: The federal government decided on Tuesday that it will not allow Imran Khan’s party to hold its planned protest in Islamabad and would take strict measures to prevent protestors from reaching the capital city. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told journalists that the decision to stop the PTI march was taken at a cabinet meeting on May 24. Rana also accused Khan of seeking to create a civil war-like situation.

The PMLN-led government’s decision to halt the protest came after a crackdown on PTI politicians in which several, including Hammad Azhar, Sheikh Rashid and Yasmeen Rashid, complained of being harassed by the police. PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry said police launched the operation after midnight on May 24 and at least 400 supporters, including women were arrested. “In Punjab, 1,100 houses were raided last night. Police entered the houses without warrants and harassed women and children” he said.

Authorities have also stepped up security in Islamabad, deploying additional officers and paramilitary forces. Large shipping containers have been placed on key routes leading to the city. However, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders have vowed to hold a long march toward Islamabad despite all restrictions. “If our path is blocked then every city, every town will become Islamabad,” said PTI leader and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Imran Khan vows to hold May 25 protest

In a press briefing on Tuesday, PTI chairman Imran Khan severely criticised the government’s decision to stop the party’s long march. “I will lead the biggest political procession in Pakistan’s history tomorrow towards Islamabad”, Khan vowed. The former prime minister is leading the protest seeking to force the new coalition government into calling early elections and said he would continue the protest until the date for elections is announced.

Khan also lashed out at the government for conducting late-night raids at homes of citizens and a “brutal crackdown on PTI leaders and workers in Punjab and Islamabad” particularly harassment of families. He also said his government had never prevented any demonstration by political opponents.

“PPP, PMLN and JUI marches against our government were never stopped nor did we carry out any crackdown on their workers,” he claimed. “This is the difference between democrats and kleptocrats.” Khan maintained that Pakistan’s economy was already in a tailspin, adding that political chaos could further worsen the situation and push the country to anarchy.

Policeman killed

Meanwhile, a policeman was killed during home raids by police in Lahore. Constable Kamal Ahmed was shot in the chest and killed during a late-night police operation in Lahore by a PTI supporter. The government and the PTI blame each other for the killing. Sanaullah blamed PTI for the killing while PTI leaders argued that the man was acting in self-defence after the policeman intruded into the house.

Following police raids at the houses of several PTI leaders and workers and reports of arrests, Islamabad High Court restricted the government from “needlessly harassing” PTI members and issued notices to the Islamabad inspector general of police, chief commissioner and deputy commissioner.