Scores of PDM activists take over venue for Nov 30 Multan rally despite obstaclesArchive
Hundreds of activists of the PPP and PML-N on Saturday overcame containers and obstacles set up by Multan authorities to reach the venue of the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement's (PDM) November 30 pubic gathering.
Police and the district administration had placed at least 30 containers around the venue, Qila Kohna Qasim Bagh Stadium, and more were being brought in to block roads leading to the city. Police was also deployed outside the stadium as part of efforts to stop the PDM rally.
But on Saturday, hundreds of PPP activists reached the venue in the form of a rally led by former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's son, Ali Musa Gilani, and broke the stadium's gate to enter and set up a camp there. They are expected to make preparations for the Nov 30 public gathering.
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PML-N workers arrived at the stadium as a group led by Abdul Rehman Kanju.
The government and opposition have been at odds over the holding of public rallies at a time when Pakistan is in the throes of a second coronavirus wave. The Multan district administration has refused permission for the Nov 30 rally citing the high incidence of coronavirus infections.
Nonetheless, trucks carrying equipment could be seen arriving at the venue on Saturday and the stage was being prepared.
"The government can do whatever it wants to; the jalsa will end up taking place," Ali Musa Gilani and Haider Gilani told supporters.
"This is the plan A, B and C," added Musa.
PPP activists first gathered at the Gilani House for a workers convention from where they left for the venue in the form of a rally. They faced little resistance in entering the stadium from police personnel, who appeared unprepared for the situation.
Musa declared that the PPP workers will remain at the venue until the Nov 30 public gathering, which will coincide with the PPP's 53rd foundation day.
Meanwhile, Yusuf Raza Gilani also declared that the rally will take place at Qila Kohna Qasim Bagh Stadium "at all costs".
"A minister said a tragedy could take place at the jalsa; the government should tell what has been done in this regard so far. The focus is on arrests instead of ensuring security," the senior PPP leader said.
He claimed that generator suppliers had been asked not to provide generators for the public gathering, and accused the police of forcing arrested PDM workers to take the oath that they will "submit Rs1 million in the Punjab government treasury if they attend the jalsa".
Police sources earlier told Dawn that more than 200 workers of PDM constituent parties were arrested and raids were being conducted to arrest more. Lists of workers, particularly from the PPP and PML-N, were provided to respective police stations.
On Friday, Prime Minister Imran Khan asked the PDM to call off its scheduled public gatherings in view of the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the country, categorically saying that the government would not give permission to the opposition to hold its rallies in Multan and other cities.
“The coronavirus is spreading dangerously, therefore the opposition should postpone PDM public meetings,” the premier said while talking to his spokespersons at Prime Minister House.
Quoting Prime Minister Imran, a participant of the meeting said: “The government will strictly enforce standard operating procedures and not allow the opposition to hold rallies as the health guidelines do not permit large gatherings.”
Some of the spokespersons suggested that those attending the public meetings be sent behind bars.
Criticising the opposition, the prime minister reiterated that he would not give any National Reconciliation Ordinance-like concession to the opposition leaders "no matter how many rallies they stage".
The PDM has so far held four anti-government public meetings in Gujranwala, Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar while two are scheduled for Nov 30 and Dec 13 in Multan and Lahore, respectively.