The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), an 11-party alliance formed to oust the PTI government, has vowed to go ahead with its scheduled rally in Multan on Monday (today) despite the authorities “rounding up” its activists to stop its power show while the government has urged the opposition parties to “stop instigating violence”.
“The rally will be held at Qila Kohna Qasim Bagh [stadium] no matter what and all leaders and activists [of the PDM] will reach there despite the government threatening to take legal action.” JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman, the head of the alliance, said at a news conference on Sunday accompanied by PPP leader and former premier Yousuf Raza Gilani and PML-N's Rana Sanaullah. "This is state terrorism," he maintained.
The PDM leaders were speaking to the media after holding a meeting at JUI-F seminary in Multan.
A day earlier, PDM activists clashed with the Multan administration as they tried to overcome barricades to reach the venue of the rally hosted by the PPP on the occasion of its foundation day. Police rounded up over 25 PDM leaders including Gilani’s son Qasim Ali Gilani and former MPA Javed Siddiqui and also seized a crane that had been brought to the stadium for the rally. Political activists, who had set up beds at the venue of the public gathering, were also baton-charged.
After holding a rally in Peshawar despite the government banning political gatherings in the wake of the rise in coronavirus cases, the PDM is adamant on staging its fifth power show in Multan.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has ruled out giving permission to the opposition parties to stage its public gatherings in view of the second wave of Covid-19 and asked it to call them off.
The JUI-F chief told reporters that opposition activists were being arrested in Multan and Dera Ghazi Khan.
He added that the PDM had scheduled its long march to Islamabad in January next year but the government’s actions might compel the alliance to stage it earlier.
The Maulana further said the government had not given permission to the alliance to hold its power show in Peshawar because of the increase in Covid-19 cases but then the PTI went on to stage a rally in Swat.
Speaking on the occasion, PML-N leader Sanaullah said the party’s vice president, Maryam Nawaz, would overcome all the barriers placed by the authorities to attend the rally in Multan.
“Imran Khan has been saying for three years that he will not spare anyone. Now we will not spare him," he added.
PPP’s Gilani said Aseefa Bhutto Zardari would address the rally instead of her brother, party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. Both Bilawal and his father, former president Asif Ali Zardari will not participate in the rally because they are unwell.
Gilani condemned the arrest of his son and other PDM leaders and activists on Saturday, saying that the government’s highhandedness had ensured success of the opposition’s rally even before it happened.
“He [PM Imran] had promised that he would provide containers and food to the opposition parties if they staged a rally. He has kept half of that promise as the containers have arrived,” he said referring to the barriers set up in Multan to prevent the PDM from holding its power show.
The Multan administration has removed the flags of opposition parties from the Qasim Bagh stadium and locked its gates to stop the PDM from staging its rally.
According to the administration, it has rejected the PDM’s application to stage the public gathering to protect citizens from Covid-19.
Speaking in connection with the clashes in Multan, Federal Information and Broadcasting Minister Shibli Faraz has urged the JUI-F chief to avoid “instigating violence”.
“Maulana Fazlur Rehman instructing his activists and seminary students to create trouble is regrettable,” the minister said in an interview with a private TV channel.
“The government would use all its options against elements challenging the writ of the state,” he added.
Shibli maintained that the ruling party wanted to settle issues with the PDM through talks but the opposition was pressuring the government to halt accountability process.
“It is impossible to stop the accountability process,” he said. “The prime minister wants to hold talks on Covid-19 and other issues but the opposition parties will not be given an NRO.”
The minister revealed that PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif was interested in holding talks with government.
“But the PDM president is telling his party activists to resort to violence.”
Shibli claimed that the people had rejected the stance of the opposition parties in Peshawar and they were unlikely to attend the public gathering in Multan.
Addressing a news conference in Islamabad, Federal Communications and Postal Services Minister Murad Saeed said the PDM leadership was frustrated after suffering a defeat in the Gilgit-Baltistan elections and the failure of the alliance’s rally in Peshawar.
“Those who were advocating a complete lockdown during the first wave of coronavirus are now organising public rallies in defiance of the NCOC directives,” he added.
He urged the opposition parties not to put the lives of the people at risk and postpone their political rallies in the larger national interest.
In a statement, Special Assistant to the PM on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill alleged that the PDM was paying people to attend its Multan rally. “The PPP has failed to gather people for the Multan rally,” he said. He further said that the nation has rejected the anti-state narrative of PDM.
(With input from agencies)