Ex-PM postpones Lahore rally after government imposes ban on public gatherings

LAHORE (Monitoring Desk): Former prime minister Imran Khan called his scheduled rally in Lahore, the provincial capital of Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province on Sunday, a few hours after the government announced a ban on large public gatherings in the city.

This is the second time in less than a week that the interim Punjab government has imposed the restriction ahead of Khan’s election rally in the eastern Pakistani city.

The interim provincial government imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) which empowers the administration to issue orders in public interest and place a ban on any activity for a specific period of time.

Punjab caretaker information minister Amir Mir said the former prime minister had once again announced holding a rally on an “important day,” Pakistan’s Geo News channel reported.

The move came hours after Khan, who has been mobilizing his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) opposition party for elections slated for April 30 in Punjab, said he would lead the rally himself.

Taking to Twitter, the ex-premier said he was postponing the rally to Monday as the government wanted to “provoke clashes” and register sham cases against his supporters as a pretext to avoid holding elections.

“Election Schedule has been announced so how can Sec 144 be imposed on pol activity? I AM TELLING ALL PTI WORKERS NOT TO FALL INTO THIS TRAP. Hence we have postponed rally till tomorrow,” he wrote.

In an earlier Twitter post, Khan said Section 144 had been imposed illegally only on the PTI’s political campaign as all other activities were going on in the city.

“Only Zaman Park has been surrounded by containers & heavy police contingent,” Khan wrote, referring to the area around his residence in Lahore’s Zaman Park area.

General elections in Punjab are scheduled to be held on April 30 after Khan’s PTI and allies dissolved the Punjab Assembly among two provincial legislatures in January in their bid to force the central government of PM Shehbaz Sharif to announce nationwide elections.

Political tensions rose once again in Pakistan after Khan accused the interim Punjab administration on Saturday of killing one of his party workers in police custody, promising to lead the election rally in Lahore on Sunday.

Khan called off the public rally last Wednesday after clashes broke out between the police and his party’s supporters outside his residence in the city. The law enforcement made several arrests before a PTI activist, Ali Bilal, was found dead.

The interim government insists Bilal was killed in an accident, adding that PTI’s leadership knew the real cause of his death but refrained from telling the truth as they wanted to gain political mileage from it.