PTI marchers start dispersing as Imran Khan goes to Bani Gala amid reports of background talks between PTI, government
ISLAMABAD: After a packed day of political drama and violence across Pakistan, PTI chairman Imran Khan gave Thursday morning a six-day ultimatum to the PML-N government to dissolve the assemblies and announce an election, indicating an end to the party’s much-touted ‘Azadi March’.
The PTI chairman was off to Bani Gala after addressing the participants of the ‘Azadi March’ at Jinnah Avenue, leaving behind his supporters who marched for hours in anticipation of a major public gathering and sit-in.
The PTI marchers, who were in D-Chowk most of Wednesday night, had by this time entered Islamabad’s prohibited Red Zone, which is home to several sensitive buildings, including Supreme Court, PM House, US Embassy. They managed to enter despite heavy security. They later started dispersing.
In response to the presence of PTI marchers in the Red Zone, Information and Broadcasting Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb told Geo News that security in the Red Zone is fool-proof. She said they will ensure security of the public and the sensitive buildings.
In his speech at Jinnah Avenue, Imran Khan said he had reached Islamabad after 30 hours of traveling from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“The government tried every method to crush our Azadi March. They used teargas on peaceful protests, our homes were raided and our privacy was violated. However, I have seen the nation free itself of [the] fear of slavery,” he said.
Imran Khan said three PTI workers lost their lives in Karachi, while two workers were thrown off Ravi Bridge and thousands others were arrested.
Giving a deadline to the government to announce the date for fresh polls in the country, Imran Khan said he is giving the government this time to announce a general election in June.
“My message for the imported government is to dissolve assemblies and announce elections, otherwise I will come back again to Islamabad after six days,” he added.
As the situation turned chaotic in Islamabad after PTI Chairman Imran Khan and his convoy entered the federal capital and started marching towards the city's D-Chowk, the government decided to seek the help of the army to control the situation and protect the government's offices located in the Red Zone.
The government, in a notification, said that the army was summoned to control the situation under article 245 of the Constitution.
The decision comes after the protests staged by PTI workers took a violent turn as they clashed with law enforcement agencies (LEAs) in the federal capital and injured multiple rangers, police, and Frontier Constabulary personnel, according to the Islamabad Police spokesperson.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah took to Twitter and confirmed the development.
Following the government's decision to summon the army, Islamabad Police issued a warning to the protesters and asked them to refrain from entering the Red Zone.
"Entry into the Red Zone will not be tolerated. All protesters and their leaders are requested to refrain from entering the said area in compliance with the orders of the court," the Islamabad Police tweeted.
Later, the Inspector-General of Islamabad Police Dr Akbar Nasir Khan issued a statement and said that the police had been ordered not to use "unnecessary force" against the protesters.
"The police and other law enforcement agencies deployed in Islamabad are not carrying any weapons. But information has been received that some of the protesters are carrying weapons that could lead to the loss of precious lives. Therefore, all protesters are requested to keep the protest peaceful as it was a political process."
On the way to the federal capital, Khan and his caravan stopped atHasan Abdal where he addressed his workers and said that as soon as the police would see him reaching D-Chowk, it too would realise that "we are here for jihad, not politics."
"We will not leave D-Chowk until the government announces a date for the elections in the month of June," Khan said.
Meanwhile, protesters that had already reached D-Chowk continued clashing with the police. As a result, the LEAs fired teargas shells at the demonstrators. Once the shelling stopped, PTI workers once again started assembling at the intersection. Seeing that, the police fired teargas shells to disperse them once again.
Taking to Twitter, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman condemned the deteriorated law and order situation in the capital and said that the Supreme Court had made the executive’s policy to maintain the law and order situation ineffective which created an impression of facilitating the PTI.
“Now the SC will have to clear its position and take steps to remove this impression of facilitating the PTI,” he said.
Fazlur Rehman said the apex court should begin contempt of court proceedings against the PTI leadership for violating the commitment made in the SC.
Following the Supreme Court’s order for the government and the PTI to hold negotiations in a bid to control the situation at 10pm Wednesday, the government’s team — headed by PML-N leader Ayaz Sadiq — reached the commissioner's office in Islamabad but the PTI team, led by Bawar Awan, returned without holding the talks due to the late arrival of the government's team.
Speaking to the press following the fiasco, Sadiq said it was decided to meet at 10pm but "due to the closure of roads, the government's team reached the Islamabad commissioner’s office 25 minutes late."
Sadiq said he was continuously in contact with the chief commissioner of Islamabad regarding the delay.
“We were gathered here on SC’s orders but now leaving as a sign of protest,” he told journalists. The PML-N leader added that the purpose of the dialogue was to select a place and set a guideline for PTI's protest.
“Following the court’s order, we have removed obstacles but the city was set on fire,” he added. “The chief commissioner had been continuously calling the PTI team but they were not responsive. However, we will wait here a little longer for them."
He added: “Imran Khan has violated SC’s order and asked workers to reach the D-Chowk instead of coming here."
Sadiq went on to say that “if we don’t obey the SC’s order, then we are charged with contempt of court. But when we followed the orders, this is what happened.”
Earlier, PTI protesters in Islamabad set vehicles and trees on fire in the Blue Area of the federal capital.
According to the police sources, the fire brigade was called immediately to douse the fire; however, the protestors also attacked the fire engine.
The police sources further added that security in the Red Zone area has been increased.
Islamabad Police confirmed that protestors had set tress and vehicles on fire. In a statement released on Twitter, the police noted that when the fire bigrade doused the blazes, the protestors once again set fire the Express Chowrangi on fire.
As Imran Khan’s convoy entered Islamabad, PTI workers reached outside Balochistan Assembly in Quetta and staged a sit-in there to demand fresh elections in the country.
PTI’s Balochistan chapter's spokesperson Nazeer Achakzai said workers were protesting against the government's violence against protestors in Islamabad.
“We will now stage a peaceful protest here in front of the Assembly,” he said.
Late Wednesday evening, PTI workers had also staged a protest at Karachi's Numaish Chowrangi, where they set a police van on fire.
During the demonstrations, several policemen, including a superintendent of police (SP), were injured as the protesters pelted stones at them. The police started aerial firing after which the number of protesters increased.
Apart from that, riots also broke out near the Khudadad Colony and Noorani Chowrangi. During the protests, Asif Hasan — a foreign news agency photographer — and Geo News cameraman Nasir Ali were also injured.
After reaching Swabi, PTI Chairman Imran Khan addressed the marchers heading toward the federal capital and denied all reports of striking an agreement with the government. “We are heading towards Islamabad and there is no chance of settling an agreement with the coalition government.”
“We will stay in Islamabad until the government decided to dissolve assemblies and announces election dates,” he reiterated, adding that they will reach D-Chowk and no hurdle can stop them.
Speaking to a charged crowd, he called the incumbent government a "group of American slaves". The former prime minister acknowledged that his party workers and leaders were being arrested across the country, while several others were being harassed.
Imran also maintained that staging a protest was the party's right, adding that he would unite the country and make it a nation.
"All Pakistanis, women, children, families, youth, lawyers, retired army officers, everyone has to come out for real independence," he said.
The PTI chairman had earlier announced to lead the march from Wali interchange, where he landed in a helicopter. In a video message recorded before leaving the former prime minister said: “This is a decisive moment for Pakistan.”
Amid the shelling, former energy minister Hammad Azhar was also injured and was provided with basic medical treatment at a rural health clinic.
Taking to his official Twitter handle, the senior PTI leader recorded a video message claiming that the police have now resorted to direct attacks.
Earlier, in order to restrain Lahore’s rally from entering Islamabad, the police tried to arrest Azhar; however, party workers managed to save him.
Police arrested the district president of PTI Ali Asjad Malhi, among other party workers from Sialkot. The authorities managed to disperse the workers with the help of tear gas.
On his Twitter handle, Azhar wrote: "Heavy shelling on our rally near Kala Shah Kaku. But we will InshAllah overcome this obstacle too."
The PTI leader had confirmed that failed attempts were being made for his arrest. He had also reported that the police have abused the workers and hundreds of shells had been fired.
Amid the ongoing clashes in the federal capital, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah had directed the Islamabad police and administration to allow all government employees on duty to enter the federal capital. Meanwhile, he said media persons shouldn’t be stopped and routes heading towards hospitals should remain open.
In a statement, the interior minister said that the government will not tolerate terrorism in the guise of politics as police seized a huge cache of weapons from the residence of PTI leader in the provincial capital of Punjab ahead of their long march.
“The seizure of heavy arms and ammunition from the houses of PTI officials is evidence of a bloody march”, the federal minister had said.
The federal minister said that the PTI general secretary's house is a depot of ammunition and the discovery of arms from the homes of PTI officials is proof of a bloody march. The nation has seen that from where did the bullet came which killed innocent police personnel.
"The Constitution and the law will be strictly enforced and those who will take the law into their hands will be dealt with strictly," he warned.
Meanwhile, after various attempts to arrest PTI leaders, Lahore police briefly detained Yasmeen Rashid and Andaleeb Abbasi. Both leaders were taken into custody as PTI workers tried to stop the law enforcers. They were, however, later released.
Throughout the day, scuffles continue to break out in parts of Lahore, Punjab, between the police and the political workers, leading to the arrest of a few PTI leaders in the city.
In the meantime, law enforcement agencies are also on high alert under instructions from the government to take “all possible measures” to stop the PTI's "Azadi March" from proceeding.
At Lahore’s Batti Chowk, the police resorted to tear gas shelling to disperse PTI workers when they removed barriers placed to block the routes.
The PTI’s Lahore chapter had asked its workers to gather at the Batti Chowk today from where they were to depart for Islamabad.
The party workers gathered at the intersection and clashed with the police when they removed barriers after which the police fired tear gas shells in order to clear the area.
The police have arrested more than 10 PTI workers from Batti Chowk; meanwhile, police confirmed that some marchers had also been arrested from the Srinagar Highway. PTI workers were arrested from D-Chowk as well.
A senior police officer, on condition of anonymity, told Geo.tvthat 212 PTI workers arrested so far in Lahore.
In a press conference, DIG Operations Lahore Sohail Chaudhry said that in the last few days the police had information that weapons were being brought to Lahore, which could be used to disturb the peace of the city.
The senior cop said the police chased five cars near the motorway and then raided the home of Zubair Niazi, the PTI general secretary in Lahore. “At his home we found weapons. It seems apparent they were planning to use these weapons in the march,” he adds.
Meanwhile, police have arrested a total of nine PTI workers from Numaish Chowrangi, including three women.
The police attacked former health minister Yasmeen Rashid’s car, breaking her windscreen in an attempt to stop her from moving forward.
According to footage circulating on social media, the police used batons to stop her; however, the car continued to move ahead despite losing balance.
Earlier, the police had encircled her car when a PTI supporter came forward and verbally abused the officials. Meanwhile, Yasmeen tried stopping the police from taking away her car keys.
Rashid, in a statement, confirmed that the windshield of her vehicle was broken by the police. She said that she faced difficulty in leaving the area.
"This government has lost its senses. I am an 80-year-old woman. Why are they threatening me? How is stopping a peaceful protest democratic?" she questioned.
Rashid added that despite everything, the enthusiasm of the workers was better than ever.
Prior to the match, local authorities had barricaded all entry points into Islamabad with heavy shipping containers to obstruct the way of PTI marchers.
The barricades had been placed for two primary tasks: first to contain the long march and second to ensure fool-proof security of the Red Zone. All the roads leading to Red Zone had been sealed, except Margalla Road. Containers had also been placed at D-Chowk to seal the area around the Old Parade Ground and the Parliamentary Lodges.
Thousands of policemen, including the Anti-Riot Unit, Counter-Terrorism Force, Anti-Terrorism Force, and police reserve along with contingents from Rangers were deployed to maintain the law and order situation in the city.
Meanwhile, barriers had been erected at several points on the Grand Trunk (GT) Road and Peshawar-Islamabad Motorway as well. The authorities blocked all the land routes between Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab by putting huge piles of mud, containers, ballast stones, cement blocks and iron barriers and fences in many places.
Heavy contingents of the personnel of stick-wielding police force and Rangers were also deputed at GT Road and Peshawar-Islamabad Motorway to stop the way of PTI workers towards Islamabad.
— This is a developing story and is constantly being updated.