ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s government on Tuesday banned a planned protest march by ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is demanding fresh elections as a political and economic crises deepens in the South Asian nation, officials said.
The ban was announced by interior minister Rana Sanaullah at a news briefing hours after a policeman was shot and killed during a crackdown on Khan’s supporters across the country.
An official of Khan’s party had shot and killed the policeman when police visited his house, information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb told a news briefing, adding that the accused and his father had been arrested.
“No one would be allowed to siege the capital and dictate his demands,” the interior minister said, adding that cabinet had approved the ban.
He said Khan and his aides had termed it a bloody march, which could not be allowed following a sit-in that Khan held in 2014 for over four months that paralysed the country. At the time, Khan had rallied thousands to protest alleged rigging of an election in 2013, and his supporters had attacked police and threatened to storm the parliament and prime minister’s house.
“They’re coming to Islamabad with evil designs,” the interior minister said, citing intelligence reports about the march.
Authorities in Islamabad had started putting up blockades at roads leading to important installations, police said, and heavy contingents from police and paramilitary troops have also been deployed.
Khan had urged his supporters to march on Islamabad on Wednesday.
“You try to stop us if you could,” he told reporters, saying a peaceful protest was his right that could not be denied.
Khan, who didn’t condemn the policeman’s killing, defended the shooting by his party official, a retired army officer, asking what should someone do if police barged into their home.
With foreign reserves falling to $10.3 billion – lower than two months of import bills – a fast-crashing Pakistani rupee and a double-digit inflation, the political turmoil has compounded economic volatility in the country.
Shehbaz Sharif, who replaced Khan last month, has yet to take bold steps towards putting the economy back on track.
Talks are ongoing in Doha between the government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to resume a $6 billion rescue package agreed in 2019, and are due to conclude on Wednesday.