October 31 – Pakistani police launched a nation-wide crackdown overnight, arresting at least 1,500 supporters of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan ahead of an opposition rally planned later this week in Islamabad, officials said Monday.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, two police officers said the number of those arrested overnight ranges between 1,500 and 1,800.
The arrests followed intermittent clashes since the weekend between Khan’s supporters and riot police in the capital that saw police using tear gas and batons to fight stone-throwing activists. The violence erupted again on Sunday near Khan’s suburban home and at several places on Islamabad’s outskirts.
Footage on local media showed police firing tear gas at stone-throwing supporters of Khan’s political party PTI, who defied a ban on public gatherings, adding to political deadlock ahead of his plans to shut down the capital next week.
On Monday, a Pakistani court barred Khan’s followers from demonstrating on Islamabad streets, restricting the rally to within the limits of a city park, said government prosecutor Saddique Awan. As of last week, the government has already enforced a two-month ban on street rallies in the capital.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, addressing a public rally in Kohat on Friday, said the opposition is afraid of seeing Pakistan progress because it would render their politics irrelevant.
Khan’s attorney Babar Awan said the party would appeal. PTI has called for massive street demonstrations for Wednesday, threatening to lock down Islamabad in a bid to force Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign.
Sharif has been under pressure after leaked financial documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. revealed his family members were named as holders of offshore bank accounts.
Police have conducted raids based on tips and information about planned violence, said government spokesman Zaeem Qadri. Those who pledge not to take part in violent actions are released, while those considered a threat remain in custody pending charges, he said.
Police have placed shipping containers on key highways leading to Islamabad in order to stop Khan’s party convoys from across Pakistan from reaching the capital.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said earlier that Khan’s followers have violent plans, which include the storming of government offices.
Speaking at a rally in Kohat, a city in Pakistan’s KPK province which is led by Khan, Sharif mocked PTI’s slogan for change and said the huge turnout at the Kohat rally is an indicator of Khan’s ineffective governance in his own province.
“We will bring change to this province. People know that no work has been done in KPK in the past three years,” said Sharif, adding that PML-N (the current ruling party led by Sharif himself) would win the 2018 elections and would also be elected to govern KPK in 2018.