Pakistani Police Resort to Tear Gas as Thousands of Imran Khan Supporters Defy Ban on 'Long March'

© AFP 2023 / ARIF ALIPolice use tear gas to disperse activists of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of ousted prime minister Imran Khan during a protest in Lahore on May 25, 2022
Police use tear gas to disperse activists of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of ousted prime minister Imran Khan during a protest in Lahore on May 25, 2022 - Sputnik International, 1920, 25.05.2022
Imran Khan, who was ousted from power last month, called for a mass sit-in protest in Islamabad, demanding an immediate election in Pakistan. The former prime minister alleged that Washington conspired to have him removed from power for pursuing an independent foreign policy.
Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan is set to hold a long march in Islamabad as thousands of his supporters defied restrictions imposed by the government to block their movement, triggering massive clashes between police and demonstrators across the country.
Imran Khan announced that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) supporters will not leave the protest site until "the announcement of dates for dissolution of assemblies and elections are given".
The first of over two dozen clashes occurred in Lahore, the home province of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, after the Punjab police accused PTI workers of carrying weapons in their vehicles on the day the party launched its "Azadi (freedom) March".
The protesters used excavators and other equipment to remove dozens of shipping containers, trucks, and other impediments deployed by the police to block roads and highways across major cities, triggering clashes between law enforcement and demonstrators.
Social media posts show rising tensions in cities, as PTI workers clashed with the police while defying restrictions imposed by the federal government, labelling the march undemocratic.
Videos shared by the PTI showed massive tear gas shelling by law enforcement to disperse the protesters, who gathered at several locations for the long march.
Police accused the demonstrators of pelting stones and throwing tear gas shells back at law enforcement officers.
In response to the government's decision to ban the protest, PTI head and former Prime Minister Imran Khan exhorted his supporters to remove barricades to embark on their march for "true freedom" towards Islamabad.
In a video message recorded before leaving for Islamabad from his home province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the former prime minister said: "This is a decisive moment for Pakistan".
The federal government has deployed thousands of police, including the Anti-Riot Unit, Counter-Terrorism Force, and police reserve to maintain law and order in Islamabad.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Pakistan directed Islamabad's police to provide an alternate site for the PTI to hold its long march.
Around 400 PTI supporters will also be released from police detention per the court order.
On Tuesday, the Shehbaz Sharif cabinet decided to ban the march, labelling it anti-democratic and looking to spread "chaos and disorder".
Khan has been holding large public rallies in different cities, labelling his replacement Shehbaz Sharif as a "traitor and corrupt". He also claims that the Sharif government was imposed at the behest of Washington, an allegation denied by both.
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