LAHORE: The joint opposition led by Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) is all set to hold a protest rally against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government in Lahore today — to seek justice for victims of the Model Town tragedy.
The incident on June 17, 2014, had resulted in deaths of 14 people and injured around 100 during an ‘anti-encroachment operation’ by the Punjab Police outside Idara Minhajul Quran, the PAT’s head office, in Lahore’s Model Town locality.
Opposition parties, including Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by PAT leader Tahirul Qadri, will hold the rally at Charing Cross, Mall Road, which is expected to begin around 2pm.
All preparations have been finalised for the rally and a stage has been established atop a container. PPP chief Asif Zardari and PTI Chairman Imran Khan are expected to address the rally at different sessions, owing to their mutual hostility.
A close friend said Zardari will address the rally before evening prayers whereas Imran will take the stage after.
Moreover, Qadri is expected to announce the joint opposition’s future strategy — which can range from a sit-in to a long march or a mix of both — in the night during his concluding speech, according to sources.
DIG Operations Haider Ashraf, in a statement, said over 6,000 personnel, including 11 SPs and 24 DSPs, will be deployed.
He informed that participants of the rally will be checked at three points, adding that alternative traffic arrangements have been made.
Mustafa Kamal’s entry
Mustafa Kamal, head of the Pak Sarzameen Party, also arrived in Lahore today to attend the rally. Addressing the media at the airport, Kamal said he’s here on Qadri’s invitation.
“People of Lahore were shot at but its effects reached all the way to Karachi,” said Kamal.
Gridlock around Mall Road
The arteries around the Mall Road remain congested in the wake of the demonstration. The flow of traffic remains affected on Shahrah-e-Fatima Jinnah, Kachehri Road, Hall Road, Cooper Road, Boharwala Chowk and Egerton Road.
Similarly, nearby educational institutes, including the Punjab University, as well as surrounding markets and the Lahore Zoo are closed today.
Sharifs have to go: Zardari
Earlier on Tuesday, Qadri announced that the rally will begin at noon on Wednesday (today) where Zardari and Imran will address participants.
Qadri and Zardari also held a meeting in Lahore earlier in the day, which followed a joint press conference by the two figures.
Speaking to the media, Zardari said the time had come for the rulers of the country to go home. He said that Sharif brothers still wish to save their rule.
He said the purpose of their protest was to get rid of incumbent Punjab government and they would soon get them out of power.
Earlier Qadri had announced to launch a movement against the PML-N government from January 17. His announcement came following a meeting of steering committee of a PAT-hosted all parties conference (APC) on January 8.
Speaking at the press conference, Qadri said they will not ask for a resignation from Punjab CM Shehbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, but that they will “take it”.
Law minister says rally aimed at creating disorder
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said Tuesday that the PAT rally is aimed at creating disorder not to seek justice for Model Town victims.
Speaking in media, Sanaullah said he has reports the rally will continue till May 30, adding that it won’t be able to bring down the government.
He reiterated the provincial government’s position on security preparations that police personnel deployed in and around the venue will be unarmed. There will be no use of force as long as protesters remain peaceful, he added.
The government has also decided to deploy Rangers outside Punjab Assembly, Governor House and other sensitive locations.
Punjab govt issues protest guidelines
In a message on Twitter on Tuesday, the Punjab government stated that protests in open places are not recommended in lights of threats to public gatherings.
However, it said since the rally participants are adamant, “they will be solely responsible for any untoward incident”.
“There should not be exhilaration/hooting in front of the offices of political/religious parties. Also, no speeches will be allowed against the constitutional offices/armed forces/judiciary.
No one shall be forced to close their business.
Organisers shall be responsible for any damage to the public property. The participants of the rally shall not be urged/provoked to break the cordon or security barrier,” states the notification.
The government also noted that the LHC has banned gatherings on Mall Road “so holding such a protest on the said venue will tantamount to contempt”.