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Govt-opposition face-off: Battle on to hold, stop rally today

Top Story

November 30, 2020

MULTAN/LAHORE/ISLAMABAD: The efforts by the opposition parties’ alliance to hold a public meeting in Multan on Monday (today) and the counter-measures by the government authorities to thwart the opposition plans intensified on Sunday.

The Multan district administration, with the help of police, expelled all opposition parties’ activists from the Qasim Bagh Stadium, the public meeting venue, and put locks on its gates once again. A day earlier, the PDM parties’ activists had broken the locks and occupied the stadium for holding their jalsa on Monday. However, they could not resist the police action for long on Sunday and had to flee the venue when the law-enforcers resorted to their arrests.

The district administration also blocked all entry and exit points of the proposed jalsa venue by placing containers there. Dozens of political activists were arrested by the police, including Ali Qasim Gilani, a son of PPP central leader Yusuf Raza Gilani. Cases were registered against hundreds of opposition parties’ activists.

The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, and other opposition leaders, however, vowed on Sunday to go ahead with their plans of a public meeting at any cost. Addressing a crowded press conference at Jamia Qasimul Aloom after a crucial PDM meeting in Multan, the Maulana said the government was resorting to state terrorism in the form of mass arrests, police raids and snatching the right to freedom of movement from the opposition parties.

“Enough is enough,” he warned the government, asking it to stop the use of force against the PDM workers. Former prime minister and Pakistan People’s Party central leader Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistan Muslim (PML-N) Punjab President Rana Sanaullah were also present.

Fazl said the entire government machinery and the police had been carrying out ruthless operations against the PDM workers. "I call upon Jamiat volunteers (Ansarul Islam) to reach Multan quickly to respond to the state machinery actions in a tit-for-tat manner.

“The volunteers wherever they are, listening to my voice, should reach Multan in the first attempt," Fazlur Rehman declared.

"If they do not let us hold our rally, then a rally will be held in every single district of Pakistan. If our workers and participants cannot reach the rally, we will fill up the jails.

"They have started a war and now all our options are open; we are ready to fight in any case. We will reach Islamabad soon and put the government in its place," Fazlur Rehman warned.

He said, "All party workers should reach Qila Qasim Bagh by smashing all obstacles and cracking police circles.

"Use sticks against sticks; respond in the way they treat you," the PDM chief advised his party activists. Fazl said the government measures had compelled the PDM to launch an early long march on Islamabad, instead of January.

Fazlur Rehman said that police were conducting raids at houses of the PDM workers in Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur divisions. He said even union council level workers, office-bearers were being arrested. Fazl warned the flood of people would wash away any force if any hurdles were created.

He said the PDM heads’ meeting would take place on Dec 8 to discuss its future strategy.

Gilani said Aseefa Bhutto Zardari would address the rally on Monday and condemned the police highhandedness against the political workers.

"By creating hurdles, the government has already made our rally a success before it even takes place," he said, noting that the PPP leaders Asif Ali Zardari and his son, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, were ill.

PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah said his party’s vice president, Maryam Nawaz, would be at the Multan rally at all costs.

"Tomorrow, Maryam Nawaz will reach Multan at any cost and will do so by breaking all the barriers," he said.

Separately, Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Sunday condemned the crackdown on the party workers through his twitter account. He said that the state of Madina could not be established through politics of Kufa. He also shared the video of arrest of Ali Qasim Gilani.

Through another tweet, Bilawal said the PTI government was really threatened by the PPP upcoming founding day celebrations in Multan. “They yet again attacked and arrested our workers including Syed Qasim Gilani.

“We will host PDM on Nov-30 come what may, and Aseefa Bhutto Zardari will be reaching there to represent me,” he said.

Former president and PPP Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, on the 53rd founding day of the party, said that there would never be a compromise on the rule of people and the supremacy of parliament.

In a message to the party workers, he said the time had come to achieve the rule of the people and supremacy of the parliament. He said the selected government had usurped the political rights of people and weakened the parliament.

Meanwhile, talking to the media at the residence of ex-MPA Shahid Khan, PML-N Punjab President Rana Sanaullah said all measures of the district administration were illegal. The government of ‘corona’ could not save itself through state repression, he said. The Multan district administration should withdraw its orders and release the arrested workers.

There would be a meeting in Qila Kahna Qasim Bagh on Monday at any cost, he added. The Monday meeting would be the last nail in the coffin of the government, he said. The ‘corona’ government has faltered, he added. He warned, "Imran Khan, we will tell you what revenge is."

Addressing a press conference at Multan Press Club, PPP stalwarts Dr Nafeesa Shah, Senator Amir Dhamra, Shehla Raza and others widely condemned mass scale arrests of the PDM workers. They said that Multan had been turned into a battlefield and it seems that a martial law had been imposed in the city.

It seems that the spirit of dictator had reborn in Imran Khan. The PPP will continue to represent the rights of the people, they said. The PPP office-bearers said they had to fight ‘corona 18’ which had turned everything expensive.

The PML-N sources said on Sunday party’s vice president Maryam Nawaz would lead a rally from Lahore to Multan to participate in the PDM jalsa on Monday (today).

The party has already conveyed to its workers in Lahore to reach Jati Umra to accompany Maryam Nawaz to Multan.

The PML-N workers from across Punjab, especially from south Punjab cities, were directed to reach Multan by any means, added the party sources. They said following massive arrests of PML-N workers and local leaders, the party leadership directed the workers to go into hide and reach Multan in disguise.

Several party leaders including PML-N Punjab President Rana Sanaullah Khan and PML-N spokesperson Azma Bukhari had already reached Multan.

PML-N Punjab spokesperson Azma Bukhari said in a video statement that if the rally at Qasim Bagh stadium was not allowed, the whole of Multan would become a jalsa venue.

“Imran Khan is afraid of opposition rallies. The termite-infested change has eaten away Pakistan's flour and sugar. Pakistan's economy has been in such a state that the common man has been deprived of two meals a day,” she added.

The PML-N sources said that so far the travel plan of Maryam Nawaz had not been revealed. She may take Lahore-Multan Motorway to reach her destination while the other plan may be travel by Lahore-Multan Road.

Azma told The News that arrests of party workers had been made in many cities including Multan. “Arrests of political workers prove to be fuel for a movement,” she said adding that time had come that the rulers are sent packing.

Separately, former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani flayed the PTI government for victimising political workers and termed it worse than any dictatorial regime.

Ali Haider Gilani, son of Yusuf Raza Gilani and PPP MPA from Multan, asserted that the PDM public meeting would take place at all costs despite all tactics being used by the government.

“Hundreds of political workers including my son Ali Qasim have been arrested, the frustration of the government regarding the PDM meeting is visible,” Gilani told The News by telephone. He said his son Ali Qasim was arrested by police and taken to hospital and later to jail in handcuffs. He said such a treatment to a political worker was not even seen in the dictatorial regime of Pervez Musharraf during which he spent six years in jail.

Ali Haider Gilani, sitting MPA of the PPP from Multan, told The News the government was using every tactic to suppress the opposition, but its tactics would prove a failure. He added that his brother had been arrested under 3 MPO so that he could not get bail soon.

Makhdum Usman Mehmood, the PPP MPA from Rahim Yar Khan, told The News that all state resources were being used against political workers. He said the PPP workers in Rahim Yar Khan district had been arrested but the senior officials were not picking up phones to address the complaints of elected representatives from the opposition.

Meanwhile, Special Assistant to Punjab Chief Minister on Information Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said on Sunday that those challenging the writ of the state would be dealt with an iron hand.

In a tweet, she said the provincial authorities could not put the lives of citizens in danger for ‘politically unemployed people’ amid the latest wave of coronavirus pandemic.

Also, Federal Minister for Communications and Postal Services Murad Saeed Sunday said Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) leadership was frustrated after defeat in Gilgit-Baltistan elections and failure of their public rally in Peshawar.

Addressing a press conference here, the minister criticised the duplicity of opposition and said that those who were advocating complete lockdown during the first wave of coronavirus were now organising public rallies in defiance of the NCOC directives.

Murad Saeed said masses had rejected the PDM as they knew fully well that when in power, the PPP and PML-N did nothing for their welfare, rather they stuffed their own coffers with ill-gotten money and now the aim of so-called protest movement was to get concessions from the government.