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Friday, 24 March 2023

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Protests continue for 2nd day against assassination attempt on Pakistan's ex-premier

Protests continue for 2nd day against assassination attempt on Pakistan's ex-premier

Protesters clash with police at Rawalpindi's Faizabad intersection, where police use heavy tear gas on Imran Khan supporters


By Aamir Latif and Islamuddin Sajid 


PAKISTAN (AA) - Supporters of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan clashed with police in major cities of the country on Friday as they continued to protest the attempted assassination of their leader in the Wazirabad district of northeastern Punjab province.

There have been reports of arrests of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party workers in certain places, although officials have yet to release details.

Thousands took to the streets after Friday prayers in Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Multan, Gujranwala, Peshawar, Quetta, Swat, Khan's home town Mianwali, and other cities, in response to a protest call given by his party.

Khan was shot and injured while leading a "long march" on the capital Islamabad on Thursday.

At least one person was killed and over a dozen others, including two lawmakers, were injured in the attack, which sparked condemnations from across the globe.

Workers gathered in Rawalpindi, Pakistan's northeastern garrison city bordering Islamabad. They clashed with police at the Faizabad intersection, which separates the twin cities, and police in riot gear retaliated with tear gas.

Earlier, Shaikh Rashid Ahmed, a former minister in Khan's Cabinet, accused Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah of "pushing PTI to fight the army but he will never succeed."

Sanaullah is one of three government officials accused by Khan of involvement in the failed assassination attempt, along with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and a senior intelligence official, Major General Faisal.

While in Karachi, hundreds of PTI supporters blocked Sharah-e-Faisal, the main artery of the country’s commercial capital, causing a major traffic jam.

Minor clashes with police, who tried to fend off the workers, were also reported.

In Lahore, the capital of PTI-ruled northeastern Punjab province, Khan’s supporters held protests at six different locations, including the Governor's House, blocking roads and burning tires.

Around 100 PTI supporters gathered outside the Governor House and burned tires in front of the main entrance, while police stood silently by.

Baleeg-ur-Rehman, the governor of Punjab, is a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz group).

In Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province, which is governed by the PTI, thousands of charged protesters converged on the city’s downtown.

Waving the tri-color party flags and carrying banners, the protesters chanted slogans against the government in Islamabad and demanded the arrest of the interior minister.

Sizable protests were also held in the adjoining Mardan, Charsadda, Nowshehra, and Swabi districts.

Qasim Suri, a former deputy speaker of the National Assembly, led a protest demonstration in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan's southwestern province, which also saw a partial strike in the districts of Qila Abdullah, Nushki, Pashin, and Sanjawi in response to the attacks on the former premier.

Shops, markets, and schools remained closed in several parts of these districts.

Lawyers protest

On the request of the Punjab Bar Council, lawyers across the province boycotted court proceedings in protest of the attack on Khan, and only attended urgent hearings.

Lawyers affiliated with the PTI held a rally in Islamabad to condemn the attack, demanding the arrest of the "real culprits" behind the "conspiracy to assassinate Khan."

Meanwhile, speaking at the National Assembly, Defense Minister Khawaja Asif condemned Khan for blaming premier Sharif and others for the attack, even before a final investigation.

Asif said the federal government itself has demanded a “free and fair” investigation into the incident by the PTI-led Punjab government, but the former premier is twisting the facts for political mileage. He also accused the Punjab government of "security failure."

Condemnations continue pouring in

Khan, who is being treated at Shaukat Khanum Hospital in Lahore, is said to be in stable condition, as condemnations and messages of solidarity continue to pour in.

The General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expressed its “strong” condemnation of the assassination attempt.

Egypt also condemned the attempted assassination of the former prime minister.

“Egypt affirmed its solidarity with the government and people of the friendly Islamic Republic of Pakistan in the face of all forms of violence, extremism and terrorism, wishing a speedy recovery for the former Prime Minister and all those injured,” said a statement from Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Khan kicked off the "long march" on the previous Friday to Islamabad in an attempt to press the government for snap elections.

He was deposed as prime minister in April after a no-confidence motion was passed in parliament.

He blames his unceremonious ouster on a US-backed conspiracy, an allegation that Islamabad and Washington have repeatedly refuted.

Pakistan's top election body last month disqualified Khan for unlawfully selling gifts he received from foreign dignitaries, igniting another political turmoil in the South Asian nuclear country.

Many people believe Khan's disqualification will aggravate the ongoing political deadlock caused by his removal from the prime minister's office.

Khan, who became the country's 19th prime minister in August 2018, ruled for just over three and a half years.

He is the country's third premier who has been disqualified as a lawmaker, following three-time premier Nawaz Sharif and Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani.

His center-right PTI campaigned on the promise of a "Naya," or "new Pakistan," pledging to fight corruption, strengthen the crippling economy, and pursue an independent foreign policy.

However, critics say he failed to keep his promises, and the opposition gained momentum to bring down his government.

His ouster, nonetheless, turned out to be a tonic for his dwindling popularity due to a poor state of economy and governance.

His party has emerged victorious in the two latest by-elections, with Khan himself clinching six National Assembly seats in last month's by-polls.

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