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Pakistan province bans public gathering ahead of Imran Khan rally

Protests and rallies were banned in Lahore for seven days, hours before the ex-prime minister was due to hold an election rally.

A province in Pakistan has banned public gatherings of more than four people in Lahore for seven days, hours before former Prime Minister Imran Khan was due to address an election rally in the eastern city.

The government in Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab, said on Wednesday that the ban was imposed on “holding all kinds of gatherings, rallies, sit-ins, rallies, processions, demonstrations, (…) protests and such other activities in the district of Lahore. to avert any untoward incident,” said local media reports.

The restrictions came hours before Khan’s Pakistani Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was due to hold a rally in the city to kick off the campaign for the Punjab provincial assembly elections.

Lahore is the provincial capital of Punjab, where the polls – scheduled for April 30 – were announced following the dissolution of the provincial assembly. Khan’s PTI had called for its dissolution in a bid to force early national elections in Pakistan.

The government of his successor, Shehbaz Sharif, has rejected Khan’s demands and says the vote will take place later this year as scheduled.

The ban on protests and gatherings in Lahore also preceded an “Aurat March” (Women’s March) to mark International Women’s Day.

“Under what law” is the Punjab government using “massive police brutality against unarmed workers to stop our planned rally,” Khan asked in a tweet, calling the government order the “law of the jungle.”

“Caregivers’ only job is to ensure fair and free elections. What they are doing is an attack on the rule of law, our constitution and democracy.”

Kamal Hyder of Al Jazeera reported from Lahore that many PTI supporters have been arrested in Lahore for violating the ban on public gatherings. He said police also fired water cannons and tear gas at Khan’s supporters.

“They’ve imposed Section 144, which means no more than four people can congregate in one place at the same time,” he said, referring to the colonial-era law. “We could see police vans take away dozens of supporters who chanted in favor of their party leader.”

“The supporters of Imran Khan’s party have warned that the government is trying to create a law and order situation to postpone the elections in Punjab,” Hyder added.

Senior PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry tweeted that the ban on protests was “the new weapon of the fascist government” of Prime Minister Sharif and its “imperialist forces”.

“The people of Pakistan have always fought for their rights,” Chaudhry wrote.

In April last year, Khan, 70, became the only Pakistani prime minister to be removed from power by a vote of no confidence in parliament. He faces a slew of cases against him ranging from “terrorism” and attempted murder to money laundering since he lost power.

Al Jazeera’s Hyder said more than 70 cases have been registered by the ruling coalition against Khan, calling it a “political vendetta”. He said new cases are being filed against the PTI chief, with police in Balochistan province likely to issue an arrest warrant against him.

On Tuesday, the Islamabad High Court suspended an arrest warrant against Khan in a case related to the alleged illegal buying and selling of gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries while in office.

A single trial court ordered police not to arrest Khan until March 13. The court also ordered the former prime minister to appear before the relevant court on March 13 in the foreign gifts case.

Police attempted to arrest Khan from his residence in Lahore on Sunday, but the cricketer turned politician evaded it.

Khan has been living in Lahore since November when he was shot in the leg by a gunman during a protest rally. Since then, he has traveled to Islamabad only once – last week – to face trial in other cases against him.