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Pak opposition alliance holds anti-govt rally despite ban on gathering in Peshawar

Pakistan's newly-formed alliance of 11 Opposition parties on Sunday held its massive anti-government rally in Peshawar despite a ban imposed by the city administration owing to a spike in COVID-19 cases and security threats, with top coalition leaders predicting that the Imran Khan government will "have to go home by January".

PTI | Peshawar | Updated: 22-11-2020 22:53 IST | Created: 22-11-2020 22:53 IST
Pak opposition alliance holds anti-govt rally despite ban on gathering in Peshawar

Pakistan's newly-formed alliance of 11 Opposition parties on Sunday held its massive anti-government rally in Peshawar despite a ban imposed by the city administration owing to a spike in COVID-19 cases and security threats, with top coalition leaders predicting that the Imran Khan government will "have to go home by January". The fourth power show by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) was held despite the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government's warning that it may lodge cases against the PDM leaders if a spike in COVID-19 cases was witnessed in the province after the rally. The alliance earlier held three massive back-to-back gatherings in Gujranwala, Karachi and Quetta.

Addressing the gathering, Pakistan People’s Party leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari vowed that January will be the incumbent government's "last month in power" and the people will decide how Pakistan will be governed. "They will go home in January," he said. "Time is near when you, the people, would hold this selected government and its selectors responsible for current crises...," he said.

On criticism over PDM's decision to went ahead with the rally despite the government ban, Bilawal said the government "only remembers COVID when they want to stop our rallies and your protest". "They don't remember COVID when it comes to regularising medical staff or increasing salaries," he said.

In his speech, PDM chief and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman said that all political parties agree and it is the movement's "clear stance" that the Imran Khan government came to power through a "rigged election". He said that the people have "rejected the rigged government".

"Our stance is very clear. Rigging has been done, we know who was behind it and the one who is na maloom (unknown), we all know who that is," he said in an apparent reference to the powerful army. He then went on to say: "We respect the army if it is our defence institution. But if it tries to become a political institution, it will have to tolerate criticism. Then it should not say, 'don't take our name'.

"Even today, we are giving you this deadline; stop supporting them (government), withdraw (your backing) and declare that this is not our government. Raise your voice against this government along with us, we will then be brothers. "Why do you indulge in politics?" Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) vice-president Maryam Nawaz left the venue in the middle of the rally after hearing the news of her grandmother’s death in London.

Before leaving the venue, she requested the crowd to pray for the departed soul and for swift recovery of her ailing father and three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz Sharif's mother Begum Shamim Akhtar died in London on Sunday. She was 91.

She was not well for the last one month or so, according to the PML-N sources. "No government official was humane enough to inform me of my grandmother's death. I have requested Mian Sahib (Nawaz Sharif) not to come back at all. These are tyrants and vengeful blind people from whom no kind of humanity is expected,” Maryam later wrote on her official Twitter handle.

Sharif, who addressed the previous PDM rally from London via a video link, did not address the Peshawar rally. He has repeatedly blamed Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and ISI chief Lt Gen Faiz Hameed for Pakistan's current situation.

Sharif, who is entangled in a number of corruption cases, has been in London since November last year after the Lahore High Court granted him permission to go abroad for four weeks for treating the heart disease and an immune system disorder. Pakistan’s powerful Army has denied meddling in politics. Prime Minister Khan also denies that the Army helped him win the election in 2018.

Prime Minister Khan criticised the PDM on Sunday, saying the Opposition alliance was "callously destroying peoples' lives and livelihoods". "Opposition is callously destroying people's lives & livelihoods in their desperation to get an NRO. Let me make it clear: they can hold a million jalsas but will not get any NRO," he said in a tweet.

Soon after Sunday's rally ended, Information Minister Shibli Faraz released a video message in which he paid lauded people for "boycotting" the PDM gathering. "Not only did they (public) keep themselves safe from corona on the prime minister's appeal, they also turned PDM's anti-public agenda into a failure," he said and condemned the opposition alliance for insisting on holding the rally despite rising COVID-19 cases as well as a court order.

He urged participants of the rally to quarantine themselves in order to keep others safe. The government’s ban on public gatherings came on November 16. Announcing the ban during a press conference, the prime minister said the decision was taken keeping in view the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in a fortnight.

JUI-F chief Rehman earlier said the government was using the issue of coronavirus as an excuse to stop the Opposition from staging its power show. On September 20, the leaders of 11 major Opposition parties announced the formation of the PDM and launch of a three-phased anti-government movement under an "action plan" starting with countrywide public meetings, protest demonstrations and rallies before a "decisive long march" towards Islamabad in January 2021.


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