Pakistani authorities blocked roads and arrested several supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on Wednesday in a bid to derail the protest march called by ousted prime minister Imran Khan, a day after the government banned their rally to prevent them from “propagating their misleading agenda."
On Saturday, Khan, 69, had asked his supporters to march peacefully to Islamabad on May 25 to press for the dissolution of the National Assembly and fresh elections in the country.
Pakistan’s coalition government, however, has rejected Khan's demand that early elections be held in the country, saying the government will complete its tenure and the polls would be held next year.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition government initially allowed the protest but on Tuesday refused to give permission, fearing violence and lawlessness in the wake of the march.
On Wednesday, a crackdown started in various cities and police arrested hundreds of PTI workers and some of its leaders to stop them from joining the protest known as “Azadi March”.
The government also imposed Section 144 to ban big gatherings in Lahore, the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad and Karachi, as well as other major cities.
Punjab Home Secretary Syed Ali Murtaza told the media that paramilitary Rangers were called to help police to keep peace in the largest province, which would be a key to mobilize sizable protestors.
More than 4,000 police personnel from other districts of Punjab have been called to Islamabad.
Barricades were erected around Lahore and the twin cities to stop vehicles from entering or going out, bringing life and traffic to a standstill.
Major roads, including the Grand Trunk Road and the M-2 Motorway, linking Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa with Islamabad were blocked to stop the protestors coming to the capital. Khan had announced to lead the marchers from the province, where his PTI has the government.
Educational institutions have been closed in the twin cities and all examinations of students cancelled. The government decided to ban the protest after reports that violence was imminent, according to Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah.
He told the media stopping the PTI workers would be a “great service to the nation” because “no one could be allowed to besiege Islamabad and give dictations to the government”.
Khan rejected the move by the government and urged the youth of his party to remove all barricades and reach Islamabad by the evening.
Protest marches and sit-ins have been a norm in Pakistan to press for political demands, and the successive three governments since 2008 have to face such protests.