The government of Punjab announced Saturday that it would again impose Section 144, which prohibits large gatherings, in Lahore as part of precautionary measures ahead of a public rally of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which party chief Imran Khan will lead at 2pm today.
This is the second time in less than a week that the interim government has imposed the restriction ahead of the election rally of the party — which has severely criticised the caretaker set-up for being "partial".
The announcement came hours after PTI Chairman Imran Khan — who has been mobilising his party from his residence in Lahore for more than four months — said he would lead the rally himself.
"I will lead the election rally to show them that we are not domesticated animals," the former prime minister — who was ousted in April last year — told his party workers during his address via video link as he slammed the caretaker set-up for allegedly being involved in the "murder" of party worker Ali Bilal.
However, just like earlier this week, Punjab caretaker Information Minister Amir Mir said that the former prime minister has once again announced holding a rally on an "important day".
"Today (Sunday), Lahore will host a Pakistan Super League (PSL) match. There will also be a 40-kilometre-long marathon and cycle race in the city," the information minister said.
Mir added that the administration informed the party about the events beforehand, and it was also apprised in writing to hold the rally another day, but it chose otherwise.
"In light of the situation, the Punjab government has decided to ban rallies today. Section 144 is being imposed to avoid any untoward incident," the information minister.
Mir said that the election campaign begins "22 days" before the polls, implying that the party was preparing ahead of the schedule, as he advised the PTI chief to "rest".
The general elections in Punjab are scheduled to be held on April 30, while the date for the polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is yet to be announced as Governor Ghulam Ali has not decided.
During PTI's rally on Wednesday, clashes broke out between party workers and the Punjab Police, leaving several wounded.
In a press conference after the announcement, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the imposition of Section 144 is "baseless", noting that the candidates who are vying to contest the elections in Punjab will file their nomination papers today.
"We are kickstarting our election campaign and in such a situation, the imposition of Section 144 is not justified," the former foreign minister said in a press conference in Lahore.
Claiming that the "government wants confrontation", he said that his party would move the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the Lahore High Court (LHC) against the move.
He said PTI leader Babar Awan would call on Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja in the morning and tell him that the imposition of the restriction was "baseless".
Qureshi asked the party workers to reach Zaman Park — Khan's residence — before 2pm and that the PTI chief would lead the rally himself.
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