Police in Pakistan’s capital detained dozens of supporters of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan late on Thursday, triggering brief clashes between police and opposition activists in various parts of Islamabad.
The arrests prompted Khan to announce a nationwide protest for Friday in Islamabad and elsewhere. Hours earlier, Pakistan banned all political meetings, rallies and protests in Islamabad – apparently in a pre-emptive move ahead of Khan’s rally against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif planned for next Wednesday.
The government says the ban, which applies to Islamabad and the adjacent garrison city of Rawalpindi, will remain in force for two months. Khan has threatened a lockdown of the capital to force Sharif to step down.
Cabinet member Saad Rafique denounced Khan’s plan, saying it was aimed at disrupting normal life in Islamabad, and questioned the politician’s state of the mind, suggesting he see a medical specialist. Rafique said the government did not plan to arrest Khan.
Sharif’s, who is serving his third term as prime minister, faces mounting public criticism after his family members were named as holders of offshore bank accounts in leaked financial documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.
Sharif has defended his financial record, attempting to explain the details of his family business in parliament and in two televised speeches. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing on the scandal for Tuesday.
Khan’s party is one of the five petitioners who have approached the top court requesting an investigation into the scandal. The court has asked the prime minister to issue a response to the allegations made in the petitions.
Separately, an Islamabad high court also asked Khan’s party on Thursday to explain by Monday his plans for the march against the prime minister. The court declared that no road is to be blocked, either by the protesters or the government.
Sharif’s aides are calling on Khan’s party to postpone the street protests and await the court decision.
One of Sharif’s allies, parliamentarian Talal Chaudhry, said that Khan’s recent statements suggested his party had plans to paralyze the capital. ”We wouldn’t allow that,” Chaudhry said.
Khan’s lawyer Naeem Bokhari said that he and his legal team would review the high court decision to see whether it had the authority to ban the street rallies. He said he would challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court.
”No power can stop our rally,” Khan told reporters Thursday. ”It is our legal, democratic, constitutional right.”
The first test of the government’s ban on rallies comes Friday, when an alliance of religious extremists plans a gathering in Islamabad.
Also Thursday, police in a shootout killed four suspected ”terrorists” in a neighborhood of Quetta, according to a local police official, Mohammad Suhail. He said two policemen were wounded in the shootout, which began when suspects hurled a grenade on police as they raided a home following a tip that militants were hiding there.