Pakistani police on Friday fired tear gas at stone-throwing supporters of opposition leader Imran Khan who defied a ban on public gatherings, adding to political deadlock ahead of his plans to shut down the capital next week.
There was no immediate report of injuries but TV stations carried footage of police charging with batons, as plumes of tear gas billowed in the air.
Police surrounded the home of former cricket hero Khan, who called for nationwide protests after dozens of activists from his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party were arrested a day earlier.
The protests have added to the chaos ahead of Khan’s plans to lock down the capital on Wednesday in what he described as a final push to force Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign over corruption allegations.
Khan had vowed to join Friday’s planned rally but had not left his home, with a heavy police presence outside, by the afternoon and was scheduled to hold a press briefing.
The rising tensions come at an awkward time for Sharif, with relations between his ruling PML-N party and the powerful military strained over a newspaper leak about a security meeting that angered army officials.
Authorities on Thursday swooped on an indoor youth rally by Khan’s party in Islamabad, beating activists with batons and detaining 38 people.
Police said the rally contravened a city order issued hours earlier to ban all public gatherings in the capital ahead of next week’s protests.
“Police manhandled our women and our boys. Because of that, Imran Khan has called for nationwide protests,” a spokeswoman from PTI’s media team said.
Khan, who led a weeks-long occupation that paralysed the government quarter of Islamabad in 2014 after rejecting Sharif’s decisive election win, has vowed to contest orders banning public gatherings in court but has hinted his supporters would march on the capital next week regardless.