ISLAMABAD: Pakistani police fired tear gas and supporters of ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday to block them from reaching the capital, Islamabad, officials and witnesses said.
Political and economic uncertainty has deepened in the South Asian country ahead of a likely announcement by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) later in the day on whether it will continue its rescue package. billion dollars or not.
Khan has called on supporters to march back to the capital and stay there until the new government is dissolved and a new election date is announced.
He was ousted in a confidence vote by a united opposition after he lost partners in his coalition government last month.
“We received reports that the police attacked with batons and fired tear gas to break up the protesters,” Amjad Malik, an interior ministry official, told Reuters.
He said no one was seriously injured in the clashes, which were mainly reported in Punjab province, and that police had also arrested dozens of activists.
Live footage on local television showed police battling supporters, beating them and in some places smashing the windshields of their cars and bundling them into police cars.
Islamabad’s roads in and out have been blocked, as have all important facilities including parliament, government offices and diplomatic missions, officials said. They said entry points were also blocked to and from all major cities in Punjab province and Grand Trunk Road (GT).
A dense reserve of police and paramilitary troops has been deployed since Tuesday evening.
Khan is leading a protest starting in the northwest of Peshawar to reach the capital via GT road.
The government banned Khan’s march on the allegation that he was bringing protesters to Islamabad with “evil design”.
Khan’s party petitioned the Supreme Court asking the government to lift the restrictions.
With foreign exchange reserves dwindling to $10.3 billion – two months lower than imports – a rapidly falling Pakistani rupee and double-digit inflation, political turmoil has increased instability in the country.