- Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan reaches Swabi in convoy to Islamabad
- PTI activists clash with police, Ali Asjad Malhi, Jamshed Cheema among arrests
- Yasmin Rashid's vehicle comes under attack; windshield smashed at Bati chowk Lahore
- Activists force their way through roadblocks in Lahore
- PTI South's convoy led by Ali Amin Gandapur enters Punjab
- PTI says several cavalcades from various Punjab localities en route to Islamabad
As Former Pakistan PM Imran Khan's party began their planned Azadi March on Wednesday, tensions in Punjab rose after police made use of tear gas and arrested several PTI marchers in Lahore as activists attempted to remove the shipping containers between them and Islamabad.
It came after PTI chairman Imran Khan exhorted his supporters yesterday to embark on their march for "true freedom" towards Islamabad, just a day after the government banned the march. In response, Imran called on the youth to remove the obstacles themselves, reports DAWN.
Imran Khan said in a tweet that there was no question of a deal with the government and reiterated that the party would march to Islamabad.
"Rumours and deliberate disinformation [is being spread] that a deal has been done. Absolutely not! We are moving towards Islamabad and no question of any deal," Khan said in a tweet.
The PTI chairman said once his party reaches Islamabad, they would remain in the capital till the announcement of dates for the dissolution of the assemblies and elections are given.
"Calling all people of Islamabad and Rawalpindi to join," he added.
Imran Khan had arrived at the Wali Interchange in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by helicopter. Footage of Imran arriving at the interchange showed PTI activists converging on the chopper.
Imran Khan, later, departed for Islamabad from the Wali Interchange in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Afterwards, PTI tweeted a photo of Imran waving to supporters from a truck adorned with PTI colours.
Imran also urged protesters to carry the Pakistani flag, calling today a "defining moment" for Pakistan.
'No blockade can stop us'
After reaching Swabi, Imran, holding a Pakistan flag, delivered a speech to supporters. In it, he said that "we are going to D-Chowk and no one can stop us" as the crowd cheered.
Calling the incumbent government a "group of thieves", he termed them the most corrupt people in the country of history and said that they were afraid of the people which is why they had placed containers.
He said that protesters were being detained and harassed as they participated in the Azadi March. Addressing politicians of the ruling coalition, Imran said that the PTI government did not bar any of them from staging protests as they "did not fear the people".
He asserted that the government was afraid as they had been plundering national wealth for the past 30 years. "I want to give the people a message from Swabi Interchange: whatever you do, we will cross all obstacles and reach D-Chowk. Our protest will be peaceful as it has always been."
Meanwhile, other party leaders departed from their respective locations, with Hammad Azhar, Yasmin Rashid and some others from Lahore, while Shahid Khattak departed from Karak. PTI's Fayyazul Hasan Chohan could be seen on television footage departing for Islamabad on a motorcycle.
The PTI later tweeted that the party's south KP's convoy led by Ali Amin Gandapur was "well on its way" towards Islamabad after the blockades faced at the Punjab-KP border were "crossed successfully".
As the events unfold and PTI activists defy Section 144 — a measure which is frequently used to prevent gatherings — Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah is set to address a news conference. A day earlier Section 144 was invoked in Islamabad, Punjab and Sindh.
Alternative site for protest
The Supreme Court directed the Islamabad chief commissioner on Wednesday to provide an alternate site to the PTI to hold its Azadi March by 2:30pm and create a traffic plan for protesters so they could reach it.
A three-member bench headed by Justice Ahsan, and comprising Justice Munib Akhtar and Justice Sayyed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi, issued the directives while hearing the petition filed by Islamabad High Court Bar Association (IHCBA) President Mohammad Shoaib Shaheen a day earlier, seeking the removal of blockades in the capital ahead of the PTI's march.
"Let them protest and then go home," Justice Ahsan said. "We expect the government to remove barricades."
The court directed the interior secretary and police to review their policies on road closures.
Justice Ahsan said the court would also seek assurances from the PTI that the protest would be peaceful, property would not be damaged and there would be no torture or violence.
Jamshed Cheema held in Lahore; police try to nab Hammad Azhar
DawnNewsTV reported that police attempted to arrest Hammad Azhar in Lahore. Footage showed scuffles between supporters and police as they tried to arrest Azhar, who could be seen wearing a red cap in footage broadcast on TV.
After 1:50pm, the police resumed shelling and fired tear gas near the Aiwan-e-Adal. Four lawyers have also been arrested, while 10 to 12 cars were reportedly damaged.
Dawn.com was able to confirm that another PTI leader, Jamshed Iqbal Cheema. was arrested in Lahore and was moved to an undisclosed location. In a brief video message, he said they were living in a country of 220 million people and all of them would exercise their "democratic rights".
Earlier, footage emerged of police personnel charging at marchers at Lahore's Bati chowk. Ten people were arrested after clashes.
Dawn.com has seen footage depicting clashes and scuffles between the protesters and the policemen as activists converged in the area to begin their march on Islamabad. The videos showed policemen stopping PTI supporters from moving forward and making use of tear gas.
According to PTI's official Twitter account, the marchers were also stopped at the Shahdara area.
In a later tweet, the party said the shipping container placed in Shahadara had been removed.
At the Niazi Chowk too, PTI workers removed impediments and marched forward.
Meanwhile, another PTI caravan led by Hammad Azhar managed to get across the obstacles and crossed Lahore. He is now on GT Road on his way to Islamabad.
From Lahore, Azhar said, the impediments and containers on Bati Chowk, Ravi Bridge and Shahdra have been removed and the roads have been cleared by "the public".
Later, Azhar's said Kala Shah Kaku, some 11km north of Ravi Bridge, was under "heavy shelling".
Azhar's rally has reached Muridke, meanwhile the caravan led by Shafqat Mahmood is yet to cross the Bati chowk.
In Lahore, the police also baton-charged the protesters near the Aiwan-e-Adal. The marchers were, however, later dispersed. Clashes between the police and protesters were also reported in other areas of Lahore such as Islampura, Karim Park, Mohni road and Badami Bagh.
Meanwhile, police said that they have recovered heavy ammunition from the residences of PTI leaders Bijash Niazi and Zubair Niazi.
DIG Operations Sohail CHauhdry in a press conference shared that the raids were conducted at Nawan Kot and Multan Road areas from where three persons were arrested, however, Zuair Niazi flee from the scene.
Giving details of the arms recovered, the police officer said that six 223 bore guns, 13 rifles, 96 SMG rifles and 26 magazines of pistols.
Niazi was later arrested during clashes with police when he was going towards Batti Chowk along with former health minister Dr Yasmin Rashid. However, PTI workers managed to free him from police custody.
In a statement, Interior Minister Rana Sanullah said that the presence of ammunition at the residence of PTI Lahore's general secretary is evidence that Imran Niazi is not doing politics, he has resorted to terrorism.
The minister asked the PTI chairman to cancel the bloody march and follow the Constitution and law. He also urged Imran Khan to remain peaceful and not use the resources and machinery of the Pakhtunkhwa government for his interests.
"This is not a peaceful political caravan but an armed invasion. We will not allow those who laid landmines and destroyed the economy. The law will be strictly enforced, whoever takes the law into his own hands will be caught."
Yasmin Rashid's car comes under attack at Bati chowk
Separately, Dawn.com has seen footage showing police stopping leader Yasmin Rashid's vehicle in Lahore. An exchange of words could also be seen after police reportedly attempted to yank out the key of the vehicle she was travelling in.
Video aired by broadcasters showed police landing blows on a vehicle — purportedly Rashid's — as it tried to pass through a cordon. A non-uniformed individual with his face covered could also be seen in the footage, hitting the vehicle forcefully.
Rashid in a statement, said the windshield of her vehicle was broken by the police. She said that she faced difficulty in leaving the area, but was now on the way to Islamabad. "This government has lost its senses. I am an 80-year-old woman. Why are they threatened of me? How is stopping a peaceful protest democratic?"
Rashid, who is a cancer survivor, added that despite everything, the enthusiasm of the workers was better than ever.
Later, the PTI tweeted a video of the vehicle with the broken with Rashid inside it.
In Lahore, the marchers had reached the Ravi Road interchange, some 362 kilometres from Islamabad.
DawnNewsTV has reported roadblocks in Faisalabad, Gujranwala and other cities in Punjab.
Meanwhile, a faceoff was reported between PTI supporters and the police in Gujranwala when the latter tried to stop them with barricades near Khanki Headworks. However, the marchers forced their way through the obstructions and move ahead.
The caravan, led by Chaudhry Ahmed Chatha, is now on the way to Islamabad.
According to PTI's Gujranwala General Secretary, Tariq Gujjar, 150 people from the caravan have been taken into custody.