Authorities in Pakistan have banned all political gatherings and street rallies in the capital city in a bid to discourage next week’s planned anti-government march here.
The ban will remain in force for two months to prevent "unlawful assemblies ... which are likely to threaten public peace and tranquility" in the city, according to an interior ministry statement issued Thursday.
Activists and supporters of the opposition political party of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan have vowed to converge on Islamabad on November 2 and lock down the capital until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resigns.
Sharif has been under public pressure and criticism since early this year, when his family members were named as holders of offshore bank accounts in leaked financial documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.
The prime minister has since defended his financial record through speeches in parliament and on national television, rejecting charges of any financial wrongdoing in building the overseas assets.
But Khan dismisses the defense and has been demanding that state institutions conduct an impartial investigation into alleged corruption, tax evasion and money laundering that enabled the Sharif family to build billions of dollars in foreign assets.
"The prime minister and his family have been caught in these disclosures of the Panama papers," Khan told VOA. He asserted that years of corruption at the highest level in Pakistan are mainly responsible for the country’s economic woes, including its struggling education and health sectors.
"It cannot happen that the prime minister can get away with corruption and [say] he is unanswerable to us – either to the parliament, to the law of the land," Khan asserted. "And we expect that other people would not be corrupt."
Harassment and detention alleged
The opposition politician on Thursday alleged the police already have begun detaining and harassing opposition supporters as well as party leaders to stop them from reaching Islamabad. Khan said they are being deprived of their legal, democratic and constitutional right to peacefully demonstrate.
A court in Islamabad has ordered Khan to appear in person Monday to explain his "lockdown" threat, saying it has worried residents of the capital.
But Khan vowed Thursday that he and his supporters would reach Islamabad "come what may, and no power can stop us from doing so."
The head of the International Monetary Fund, visiting Islamabad this week, emphasized the need for increasing transparency in government contracts and for accountability to remove corruption from the country.
"Pakistan ranks 117 out of 168 countries in perceived corruption," Christine Lagarde said. "… Even the perception of corruption deters private investment and impedes efforts to promote sustainable and inclusive growth.
"Currently, education outcomes in Pakistan remain too weak. One out of every 12 children in the world that does not attend school lives in Pakistan," lamented the IMF chief.