Clashes in Pakistan as provocative Imran Khan begins on his way to the capital Imran Khan News

CASE IN PROGRESS,

Police launch tear gas and shoot Han’s supporters to prevent them from reaching Islamabad for a protest rally that has already been banned by the government.

Clashes have been reported in Pakistan after authorities blocked roads leading to the capital, where former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party plans to hold a large rally to demand the removal of the government and immediate general elections.

Police launched tear gas in several areas of Punjab, the country’s largest province, as supporters of Khan’s Tehreek-E-insaf (PTI) party tried to remove barricades on highways leading to Islamabad.

In the northeastern city of Lahore, police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of PTI members who had gathered at various locations to protest.

Angry protesters hurled stones and threw tear gas at police before arresting dozens of them.

A police officer throws tear gas to disperse PTI supporters in Lahore [K M Chaudary/AP]

The government banned Khan’s planned rally in Islamabad on Tuesday after a police officer was reportedly killed by a PTI employee during police raids on party members’ homes.

The PTI claimed that more than 1,000 members were arrested overnight in raids in the northeastern Punjab province in an attempt to thwart the march.

‘At all costs’

Footage broadcast on local news channels showed PTI supporters using sticks to remove barbed wire to move on.

Authorities had placed dozens of shipping containers on major roads leading to the capital, about 270 kilometers (170 miles) northwest of Lahore.

They have also deployed additional police and paramilitary troops on highways and in Islamabad to stop the rally, with tractor-trailers parked in both lanes in many areas.

Khan started the march from the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which is ruled by his party. The former leader urged supporters, especially young people, to remove the roadblocks to reach Islamabad “at all costs”.

“I urge everyone to have the flag of Pakistan with them. “This is a crucial moment,” the 69-year-old leader wrote on Twitter.

Khan had already gathered PTI leaders and thousands of supporters in Peshawar, the capital of Haiper Pakhtunkhwa. From there, his followers must cross a bridge across the border in a government-blocked province before gathering on the outskirts of Islamabad.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said Khan would be arrested if the rally took place.

Referring to Islamabad, Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder said he had seen dozens of PTI workers being arrested “just outside our office”.

“There are reports of clashes between police in many Punjab cities, despite the fact that the Pakistani constitution allows for peaceful demonstrations, which is a fundamental right of the people,” Haider said.

“But the government seems to be panicking and overreacting despite the fact that there have been court orders not to arrest or harass workers.”

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Supreme Court was due to hear a request to lift the blockade on Islamabad.

Authorities say if Khan agrees to submit a written assurance that his rally will be peaceful and confined to a public park, the government will consider lifting the ban.

Pakistan's policy
Police in riot gear arrest Khan’s PTI supporter in Lahore [K M Chaudary/AP]

Khan stepped down last month after losing a no-confidence vote in parliament, which he claimed was part of a US-backed conspiracy and collusion with Sehbaz Sharif’s successor, whose government has promised a Strict response if Khan violates the ban.

The cricket legend who became a politician calls for the dissolution of parliament and new elections, which should otherwise take place in 2023. The government has rejected his demands.

Wednesday’s march has raised fears of major violence between Khan’s supporters and security forces in a nation already battling an economic crisis.

Khan lost power in part because of his failure to rectify Pakistan’s dire economic situation, including its rising debt, shrinking foreign exchange reserves and rapid inflation.

With foreign exchange reserves falling to $ 10.3 billion – down from two-month import bills – a sharp collapse in the Pakistani rupee and double-digit inflation, political unrest has exacerbated the country’s economic instability.

Sharif, who replaced Khan last month, has not yet taken bold steps to get the economy back on track.

Talks continue in Doha between the government and the International Monetary Fund on the resumption of a $ 6 billion bailout package agreed in 2019 and due to end on Wednesday.

Pakistan's policy
Police surround a vehicle carrying PTI leaders and smash its windshield in Lahore [K M Chaudary/AP]

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