Lahore, May 24 (PTI) Over 250 activists belonging to ousted Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan's party were arrested and one policeman killed in a clash in the country's Punjab province on Tuesday, a day before the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf's planned mega-march to Islamabad to press for early elections.
Khan, 69, the cricketer-turned-politician, was removed from power through a no-confidence vote in parliament by the Opposition parties last month. He has given a call for the march in the capital Islamabad on May 25, followed by a sit-in to force the government to call for snap polls.
"Punjab police have arrested over 250 PTI activists across the Punjab province so far,” Punjab government spokesperson Attaullah Tarar told PTI.
He, however, denied the claim of the PTI that over 1,000 party workers and office-bearers have been arrested in Punjab alone. Tarar said the crackdown is underway and more arrests are expected.
“The government will not allow anyone from Punjab to take part in the long march of Imran Khan which is aimed at sabotaging the country's peace,” he said.
PTI information secretary and former federal minister Fawad Chaudhry said police raided the residences of 1,100 party leaders and workers.
“Despite all fascist tactics, the PTI's ‘Azadi March' will reach Islamabad on Wednesday (tomorrow),” he said.
Police officials could be seen raiding the houses of Punjab-based PTI leaders, including renowned poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal's daughter-in-law Justice (R) Nasira Iqbal, lawmakers Hammad Azhar, Usman Dar, Fayyazul Hasan Chohan, Mahmoodur Rashid, Aslam Iqbal and Shafqat Mahmood.
Islamabad has been cut off from the rest of the country as law enforcement agencies placed containers and barricades to block the roads connecting the federal capital with other provinces. In Punjab, police have sealed all roads leading to Islamabd including that of motorways.
In Lahore, police constable Kamal Ahmad was killed in a clash with the PTI activists during a raid at their homes. The ruling PML-N leadership blamed ex-premier Khan for the killing of the policeman.
PTI chief Khan has demanded the government dissolve the National Assembly and call for elections forthwith. To press for these demands, the PTI protests have grown louder with each passing day. The agitators were scheduled to assemble in Islamabad on May 25.
Khan said he will reach Islamabad on March 25 by leading a big procession from Peshawar. Khan, in a tweet early on Tuesday, called the police crackdown on PTI workers ‘brutal'.
"Peaceful protest is the right of all our citizens. The brutal crackdown on PTI leaders and workers in Punjab and Islamabad has once again shown us what we are familiar with - the fascist nature of PML-N when in power. The present crackdown also raises serious questions about the handlers," Khan said.
He said when he was in office his government never stopped the Opposition's protest marches.
“This is the difference between democrats and kleptocrats," Khan said, adding that already the economy was in a tailspin.
“I want to warn the crooks and their handlers that these undemocratic and fascist steps will further exacerbate the economic situation and push the country into a state of anarchy," he said.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said: "We will not allow Imran Khan and his supporters to enter Islamabad in a procession. We will stop them."
The government has imposed section 144 in the capital under which not more than five persons can assemble at one place.
Cash-strapped Pakistan is passing through a phase of economic turmoil.
The newly-formed Shehbaz Sharif government is saddled with an economy which is still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and is dealing with spiked global prices of essential goods due to the Russia-Ukraine war and other such conflicts.
Earlier, the nine-party coalition government at the Centre had claimed that it would not stop anyone from coming to Islamabad to join the PTI protest.
However, that contradicts the police action on Monday night.
Khan, ousted through a no-trust vote on April 10, has accused the US of orchestrating the fall of his government after his decision to follow an independent foreign policy over the issue of Ukraine.
The US State Department, Pentagon and the National Security Committee (NSC) of Pakistan have repeatedly rejected the accusations.
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from Syndicated News feed, LatestLY Staff may not have modified or edited the content body)