Crackdown: Arrest warrant against Pak ex-prez, 450 booked before massive anti-govt stir

Pakistan’s anti-corruption watchdog on Thursday issued an arrest warrant against former president Asif Ali Zardari, while authorities booked more than 450 activists ahead of a massive rally planned by a joint opposition front that seeks to oust the Imran Khan government.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) issued the warrant against Zardari in a suspicious transactions case worth 8 billion Pakistani rupees, an offshoot of a fake bank accounts scam.

NAB asked the Islamabad High Court to deny him a pre-arrest bail, saying the co-chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was not entitled to it.

Earlier this week, Zardari was shifted to a private hospital in Karachi after he felt unwell. In September, he was indicted in a money laundering case pertaining to the fake bank accounts.

The Imran Khan government has been cracking down on opposition parties after they formed the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) with the aim to remove him.

PDM has an action plan of a three-phased anti-government movement, starting with countrywide public meetings, protest demonstrations and rallies before a “decisive long march” towards Islamabad in January 2021.

More than 450 workers from various opposition parties were booked in Lahore and other areas of Punjab province ahead of PDM’s first rally on Friday in Gujranwala city, some 80 km from Lahore.

That rally will be followed by another on October 18 in Karachi. Marches will also be held in Quetta on October 25, Peshawar on November 22, Multan on November 30 and in Lahore on December 13.

The Opposition leaders announced they would use all political and democratic options, including no-confidence motions and mass resignations from Parliament to seek the resignation of Imran Khan, whom they dubbed “the selected” prime minister.

The Opposition parties have accused the powerful army of rigging the 2018 elections that brought Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party to power. They are openly opposing the military’s interference in politics and elections for the first time in the recent history of the country.

Those booked by the Punjab police on Thursday were mostly workers of PML-N and scores of PDM activists from different parts of the province. They were rounded up ostensibly under Covid-19 regulations.

Police stations in Gujranwala, Mandi Bahuddin and Lahore registered cases against over 450 Opposition workers under sections 269 and 188 of Pakistan Penal Code, for holding a public gathering without observing Covid-19 standard operating procedures.

Former prime minister and PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, who is London since November last year, tweeted that police should refrain from arresting the PDM leaders.

“Police must NOT comply with Imran Niazi’s workers, raid their homes or hinder their travel to Gujranwala,” he said.

Former premier and PDM leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said the government’s panic over the first public meeting of Opposition has exposed its reality.

“Blocking roads with containers, raiding corner meetings, arresting PDM workers across Punjab, won’t deter the spirits of the masses who have decided to rid the country of this selected and inept government.”

He said, “People are starving and struggling to feed their families because of the unprecedented inflation and unemployment created by this government which is the most corrupt government in the history of Pakistan.”

(With inputs from Agencies)

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