Pak cops threaten crackdown as Imran's party calls protests

Monday, 12 February 2024

ISLAMABAD, Feb 11 (AFP): Pakistan police warned Sunday they would come down hard on illegal gatherings after the party of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan urged supporters to protest alleged rigging in last week's election.
Independent candidates-most linked to Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party-took the most seats in the polls, scuppering the chances of the army-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to win a ruling majority.
But independents can not form a government, and the country faces weeks of political uncertainty as rival parties negotiate possible coalitions.
PTI leaders claim they would have won even more seats if not for vote rigging.
A nationwide election-day mobile telephone blackout and the slow counting of results led to suspicions the military establishment was influencing the process to ensure success for the PML-N.
"Throughout Pakistan elections were manipulated in a subtle way," PTI chairman Gohar Ali Khan told a press conference Saturday, calling on supporters to "protest peacefully" on Sunday.
Authorities warned they would take strict action, saying so-called Section 144 orders were in place-under a colonial-era law banning gatherings of two or more people.
"Some individuals are inciting illegal gatherings around the Election Commission and other government offices," said a statement Sunday from Islamabad's police force.
"Legal action will be taken against unlawful assemblies. It should be noted that soliciting for gatherings is also a crime."
A similar warning was also issued in Rawalpindi, while AFP correspondents saw dozens of police equipped with riot gear assembling near Liberty Market in Lahore.
Khan's party defied a months-long crackdown that crippled campaigning and forced candidates to run as independents to emerge as the winners of Thursday's vote.