ISLAMABAD – Pakistani riot police Sunday used tear gas and batons to fight stone throwing supporters of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, seizing weapons and detaining hundreds of people when they attempted to reach Islamabad for an anti-government rally scheduled next week.
The clashes have been taking place intermittently since Friday, when the government imposed a ban on all rallies and protests in the capital. They erupted again on Sunday near Khan’s suburban home and at several places on the outskirts of the capital. Khan has vowed to lock down Islamabad on Nov. 2 to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
“The message we’re getting is that they’re going to block Islamabad,” Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told a news conference. He alleged the opposition party had plans to storm into Pakistan’s secretariat, the main government office.
He said the government will not let anyone disrupt life in the capital. “This is my responsibility that schools remain open and people go to their offices,” he said.
Imran Khan in 2014 held a months-long sit-in protest outside Pakistan’s parliament in Islamabad to force Sharif to quit, alleging that the premier had rigged the 2013 elections.
The former cricket star suspended his party’s protests after a Taliban attack in December that year in Peshawar killed 150 people, mostly school children.
Khan said Sunday that he didn’t have any violent plans, but the capital will lock down itself when tens of thousands of people march in the streets.
On Sunday, police blocked nearly 1,500 of Khan’s armed supporters from entering the capital, the interior minister said. Nearly 100 of them were arrested, he said. He said the police seized seven Kalashnikov rifles, one tear gas gun and seven bullet proof vests, including one driven by one of Khan’s ministers from the northwestern province where his party rules.
The government has also used shipping containers to block the main highway connecting the province with the capital to stop the opposition party workers from reaching Islamabad.
Sharif has been under pressure from opposition parties for months after several of his family members were named as holders of offshore bank accounts in leaked financial documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. Sharif, serving his third term as prime minister, has refused to quit but says he’ll face an investigation.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has reportedly settled on a panel of judges who will hear the case on Nov. 1, a day before the protest.