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Local administration calls in army as ‘Azadi march’ nears capital

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ISLAMABAD: As the Azadi march demanding the premier’s resignation edges close to the federal capital, Prime Minister Imran Khan consulted senior party leaders to discuss possible scenarios and strategy to deal with the agitators while the local administration on Wednesday called in the army to maintain law and order.

The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl caravan, wich started its journey from Karachi on Sunday and left Lahore on Wednesday evening, is expected to arrive in Islamabad on Thursday after a short stopover at Gujar Khan, some 45km from Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

PM Khan, during the meeting, was said to be looking calm as he didn’t express any worry over the agitation planned to be staged at Peshawar Mor in Islamabad and termed the Azadi march show in Punjab a “pathetic” one, a participant in the meeting told Dawn on condition of anonymity.

However, the government deployed army personnel in sensitive places in the capital for maintenance of law and order and keeping in view any possible untoward situation due to the opposition’s showdown.

The Islamabad local administration requisitioned 111 Brigade in the highly secured Red Zone which houses sensitive buildings like Parliament House, Supreme Court, Foreign Office, Pakistan Television, Radio Pakistan and Diplomatic Enclave (a cluster of dozens of foreign embassies).

The administration announced that three main arteries of the federal capital — Islamabad Expressway, Kashmir Highway and 9th Avenue — will remain sealed from 11am to 5pm. However, some alternative routes will remain open to road traffic.

According to the source privy to the meeting, PM Khan observed that JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman had already lost support of the main opposition parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

“The prime minister was of the view that although Lahore is a stronghold of the PML-N, not a single leader of N-League including its president Shahbaz Sharif joined Maulana Fazlur Rehman during the Lahore stopover of Azadi marchers on Wednesday,” he added.

When contacted, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan told Dawn that Prime Minister Khan decided during his meeting with party leaders to stick to the government’s security plan made for the opposition’s agitation in Islamabad.

In this connection, the prime minister directed Interior Minister retired brigadier Ijaz Shah to hold a press conference on Thursday to apprise the people of government’s strategy and security plan. For this purpose, Brig Shah along with Ms Awan would hold a press conference at 11.15am on Thursday.

She said the PM reiterated that the government would adhere to the agreement inked between the opposition’s Rehbar committee and the Islamabad local administration on a reciprocal basis if it was also followed by the Azadi marchers. She quoted the prime minister as saying that the government would otherwise deal with the troublemakers with an iron hand.