Islamabad: Supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan blocked roads near the capital on Tuesday, disrupting traffic and forcing schools to close, as they protested against a bid to assassinate their leader at a recent anti-government rally.
The former cricket star, who has been pressing for a general election since he was ousted as prime minister after losing a confidence vote in parliament in April, was shot at the rally last Thursday. He is recovering from leg wounds.
"People are finding it very hard to go to work," said police official Yawar Ali. "Families have been stuck in the traffic for hours. We've even got reports that the protesters have not let ambulances pass." Khan's successor as prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, has rejected his demand for new polls and the deadlock has stoked instability in the nuclear-armed country of 220 million people.
Khan's supporters began their protests on major roads around Islamabad late on Monday. They have blocked the highway to Islamabad's international airport and the ones linking the capital to the cities of Lahore and Peshawar.
Television footage showed Khan's supporters burning tires as they set up protest camps across roads. The government ordered all state and private schools to shut for the day, according to an order.
Khan, 70, launched what is known as a long-march protest rally from Lahore to the capital on Oct. 28. He was waving to the crowd from a container mounted on a truck in Wazirabad city in Punjab province last Thursday when a man fired several shots at him. Khan was among 10 wounded people. One party worker was killed.
Police have arrested the suspected shooter. Khan's party announced late on Monday that the march would resume on Thursday at the place where Khan was attacked, and he would lead it virtually.
The political tension comes as Pakistan is grappling with economic turmoil exacerbated by recent flooding that the government estimates caused economic losses worth $30 billion.
Cities erupt in protest
His right leg in a cast after surgery to remove bullets, Imran appeared in a live-streamed address to the nation from a wheelchair, barely 24 hours after surviving an attack that brought PTI supporters to the streets and triggered a face-off with government forces trying to stave off the gathering storm.
The lengthy address came even as his supporters braved tear gas and dozens of arrests across cities, including Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Karachi, in protest against the firing. Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar, Malakand, Rajanpur, Bahawalnagar, Muzaffargarh and Kohat, among others, also erupted in protest in response to the PTI leadership's call for a nationwide movement following Friday prayers.
Meanwhile, interior minister Sanaullah dismissed Imran’s allegations at a presser, saying the PTI-led Punjab government was to blame for any security lapse. “We see Imran Khan as a political opponent, not an enemy,” he said. In the national assembly, defence minister Khawaja Asif said if PTI believed there was a conspiracy behind the attack on Imran, it should immediately be substantiated.