Unrest continued in major cities of Pakistan throughout the day as former Premier Imran Khan waving Pakistan’s flag set out on his ‘Azadi March’ (Freedom March) to capital Islamabad.
Khan, his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) with growing number of independent supporters are demanding dissolution of the assemblies and fresh polls. “A sea of people is reaching Democracy Chowk,” said Khan, who is chairman of PTI -as he addressed his supporters in Hassan Abdal. “We will not go anywhere until the election date is given.”
Khan gave the incumbent government an ultimatum; to announce elections within six days or have the “entire nation” return to the capital, reported Express Tribune.
The country’s top court on Wednesday allowed Khan and his supporters to stage a protest at Islamabad’s H-9 sector, and stopped the PMLN-led government (a coalition of parties) from carrying out raids on houses and offices.
Khan said the Government has flouted the Supreme Court orders.
“The former premier’s convoy violated a court order that allowed a protest only on the outskirts of the capital,” reported Bloomberg.
The Democracy Chowk, aka D-Chowk is a large square located in the government district that is close to the buildings housing the prime minister’s office, parliament and the supreme court.
“This #LongMarch will go down in the annals of history for the struggle of actual freedom of #Pakistan. In future all of us will be able to raise our heads and claim that we took part in this struggle along with @ImranKhanPTI,” tweeted a former army officer Brig (R) Atta Ullah Khan.
The government has called out the army to protect its buildings in the capital amid clashes between protesters and security forces. Parliament will also be convened on Thursday to discuss the political and economic crises in the country.
“I think Pakistan has seen a revolution against the powerful mafia who traditionally has a stranglehold on power backed by the Establishment,” Aziz Ahmed, a senior political analyst in Islamabad tells DesPardes.
“Imran Khan has not put the people of Pakistan against the police, the paramilitary rangers and the Army by not opting for a sit-in,” said Ahmed. “He has given the sitting Government six days to resign, dissolve the assemblies and announce elections.”
In Karachi, clashes between PTI supporters, workers and the police turned Numaish Chowrangi into a battlefield. Many of them were arrested in a bid to stop the protest gathering at the Chowrangi.
A heavy contingent of police was deployed within the limits of the Karachi International Airport with instructions for immediate detention of PTI leaders at the airport. A huge number of police mobiles were also deployed within the airport to quell protests, and dozens of female police officers were positioned near the Star Gate.
In Lahore, heavy shelling of tear gas by Punjab Police was reported at the Liberty Chowk where senior citizens, women and kids were among growing number of protesters in solidarity with D-Chowk (Democracy Chowk) protesters in Islamabad.
“There was literally no need for them (riot police) to do it (tear gassing), as it was peaceful with no rowdyism,” an observer says.
Since being removed from power through a no-confidence vote last month, Khan has heaped pressure on the country’s fragile new coalition rulers by staging mass protests, asserting he was ousted from office in a “foreign conspiracy” aka “regime change”.
Khan came to power in 2018, voted in by an electorate weary of the dynastic politics of the country’s two major parties, PML-N and PPP.
The former premier had promised to sweep away decades of entrenched corruption and cronyism but is believed to have been failed by traditional forces.
“Imran Khan has proved as a great statesman and a unifier of the people of Pakistan,” said the Islamabad-based analyst.”He has proved that the country is behind him by the way people braced the raids on their homes, arrests, massive tear-gassing and deaths of five people by standing fearlessly.”
Updated with input from Irshad Salim, Karachi