ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday led a convoy of thousands of supporters towards the capital Islamabad in a show of force as the new government has attempted to shut down, report agencies.
As PTI's Azadi March began on Wednesday, tensions in Punjab rose after police made use of tear gas and arrested several PTI marchers in cities across the province as activists attempted to remove shipping containers blocking routes to Islamabad.
In a centrepiece showdown with his rivals, Khan had called for supporters to march towards the capital and stage a sit-in until fresh elections are called.
Imran Khan had arrived at the Wali Interchange in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by helicopter. Later, he departed for Islamabad from the Wali Interchange in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
After reaching Swabi, Imran, holding a Pakistan flag, delivered a speech to supporters saying that "we are going to D-Chowk and no one can stop us" as the crowd cheered, reports the Dawn.
Calling the incumbent government a "group of thieves", he termed them the most corrupt people in the country and said that they were afraid of the masses which is why they had placed containers.
"No obstacle can stop us, we will cross all the barriers and will reach... Islamabad," Khan declared from atop a truck. The coalition government headed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has pledged to stop Khan's supporters from pouring into the city, calling the rally an attempt to "divide the nation and promote chaos".
All roads surrounding Islamabad were blocked, with a heavy security presence in place, while key entry and exit points outside nearby major cities including Lahore, Multan and Peshawar were also shut, reports AFP.
Pakistan Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the government and PTI to hold consultations over the alternate venue for the party's rally.
The court directed the authorities concerned to hold consultations over permission for PTI rally in H9 ground and update the court on the outcome.
The directive came during a hearing of the Islamabad High Court Bar Association’s (IHCBA) plea against the government’s decision to block roads to stop PTI's 'Azadi March' taking place today (Wednesday) in the federal capital, reports Geo News. Meanwhile, police fired tear gas at protesters near the Chacch Interchange in Hazro town of Attock district. The protesters had brought a crane and were attempting to remove the containers that were blocking the way.
Police fired tear gas shells on the protesters in an attempt to disperse them.
Meanwhile, government spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb and Imran Kahan both rubbished news reports of a deal among the two parties.
Aurangzeb said no agreement was reached between the federal government and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.
"News of negotiations and agreement between the government and PTI is baseless". She added that no agreement could be reached with an "armed group that martyred a police personnel".
Yasmin Rashid, a prominent PTI leader, told local media police smashed the windows of her car as she tried to drive from Lahore to Islamabad.
"We will reach Islamabad at all costs. We will deal with any obstructions... and follow the orders of our leader," shopkeeper and protester Irfan Ahmad, 34, told AFP in Peshawar.
Schools in the capital and neighbouring Rawalpindi were closed and all exams cancelled, while a state of emergency was declared at all hospitals, with staff put on alert.
"We have seen the capital blocked before but this is something unprecedented," Islamabad private school worker Allah Ditta, 52, told AFP.
Salon worker Sawera Masih complained that the wide-scale disruption was falling hardest on daily wage workers like herself.
"Whoever is in power doesn't make a difference to us, but not earning even for a single day affects me and my family," the 23-year-old said.
On Tuesday, PTI accused police of arresting and detaining hundreds of its supporters in overnight raids.
Police sources in Lahore who asked not to be named told AFP more than 200 supporters were detained on public order offences.
The government and police said protesters had been planning to join the march with weapons.
One police officer was shot dead during the raids, Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shahbaz Sharif said.
Khan, who claims he was removed by a US-led foreign conspiracy, was voted in by an electorate weary of the dynastic politics of the country's two major parties.
The popular former sports star -- who enjoyed the backing of the country's powerful military -- had promised to sweep away decades of entrenched corruption and cronyism but is believed to have fallen out with Pakistan's generals.
He was brought down in part by his failure to rectify the country's dire economic situation, including its crippling debt, shrinking foreign currency reserves and soaring inflation.