Pakistani police fired teargas and baton-charged supporters of ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday to block them from reaching the capital Islamabad, officials and witnesses said.
Political and economic volatility has deepened in the South Asian nation ahead of a likely announcement by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) later in the day on whether it will resume a $6 billion rescue package.
Khan has called on the supporters to march on the capital and stay there until the new government is dissolved and a date for a fresh election is announced.
He was ousted in a confidence vote by a united opposition after he lost his partners in his coalition government last month.
“We are getting reports that the police have baton-charged and fired teargas shells to break the protesters,” Amjad Malik, an interior ministry official, told Reuters.
He said no one was seriously injured in the clashes, which were reported mostly in Punjab province, and that the police had also rounded up dozens of the activists.
Live local TV footage showed the police fighting with the supporters, beating them and in some places breaking the windscreens of their vehicles and bundling them into police vans.
Islamabad’s entry and exit routes have been blocked, as well as all important installations including parliament, government offices and diplomatic missions, officials said. Entry and exit points were also blocked to and from all major cities in Punjab province and the Grand Trunk (GT) Road, they said.
Heavy contingents of police and paramilitary troops have been deployed since Tuesday evening.
Khan is leading a rally that started of northwestern city of Peshawar to reach the capital through the GT road.
The government has banned Khan’s march, alleging that he is bringing the protesters to Islamabad with “evil design”.
Khan’s party has petitioned the Supreme Court to order the government to lift the restrictions.
With foreign reserves falling to $10.3 billion – lower than two months of imports – a fast-crashing Pakistani rupee and double-digit inflation, the political turmoil has compounded unrest in the country.
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