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Clashes, Accusations In Pakistan Political Showdown

Supporters of Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan run from tear gas as clashes begin between police and protesters in Swabi on October 31.
Supporters of Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan run from tear gas as clashes begin between police and protesters in Swabi on October 31.

Gandhara RFE/RL

Pakistani police clashed with thousands of opposition supporters traveling from northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province toward the capital, Islamabad.

The October 31 clashes happened as demonstrators aimed to make their way to the home of opposition politician Imran Khan in the capital. Khan has called for protests on November 2.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaaf (PTI) party is pressing for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation after accusing him of nepotism and corruption.

Islamabad, however, has launched a major crackdown against PTI leaders and supporters. It has blocked a major highway linking Islamabad to the rest of Pakistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in particular because PTI is seen as capable of mustering a sizeable crowd of supporters in the province.

Late on October 31, television images showed a PTI crowd approaching roadblocks amid clouds of tear gas some 70 kilometers outside Islamabad on a major highway linking the capital to Khyber Pakhtunkwa.

The protesters were led by Pervez Khattak, the chief minister or most senior elected official of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He heads a PTI-led coalition in the province and has vowed to join Khan for the protests.

In Islamabad, PTI leader Khan called on Sharif to either resign or allow an inquiry into the so-called "Panama Papers" revelations about his family's offshore wealth.

"[Nawaz Sharif] is answerable in a democracy. He is caught -- he is caught red-handed. He's got to answer, and the reason he is not answering is he knows he's guilty," Khan told Reuters. “If [Nawaz Sharif] is in trouble there, why blame me? I'm doing what an opposition is supposed to do -- expose corruption, expose breaking the laws of the land.”

Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N), however, accuses Khan of bringing on a military coup by attempting to draw the powerful army into a political dispute.

Pakistan's military has a history of staging coups and is still seen as dominating the country’s decision-making.

Khawaja Saad Rafique, a PML-N stalwart and minister for railways, said the PTI supporters will wreak havoc in Islamabad but maintained that “the government is not afraid of these demonstrations.”

Earlier, a court in Islamabad dismissed the government’s challenges to Khan's protests. The Islamabad High Court, however, ordered Khan to hold the demonstration on parade grounds far from the city's main government and commercial districts, according to Pakistani media reports.

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, the judge who heard the case, also ordered the government to ensure that the residents of Islamabad can go about their daily lives and have their fundamental rights protected.

Khan has been pressing Sharif to step down since April after Sharif’s family members were named as holders of offshore bank accounts in leaked documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Sharif, however, has refused to resign. Serving his third term as prime minister, Sharif has vowed to prove that he and his family did nothing illegal or corrupt.

This week, a panel of Pakistani Supreme Court judges will hear the case on Sharif's family offshore accounts. The court is expecting Sharif to issue a response to the allegations against him.

The PTI is one of five petitioners that have requested the Pakistani high court look into the scandal.

Pakistani law does not prohibit the holding of offshore companies. But the PTI has implied Sharif’s money was gained through corruption.

In May, Khan admitted he used an offshore company himself to legally avoid paying British tax on the sale of a London apartment.

--With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and Geo TV

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