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Pakistan Detains Activists, Bans Rallies; Opposition Vows Showdown

FILE: Imran Khan (C) head of opposition political party Pakitan Tehrik-e-Insaf speaks to supporters during a protest against the ruling party Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz in Lahore.
FILE: Imran Khan (C) head of opposition political party Pakitan Tehrik-e-Insaf speaks to supporters during a protest against the ruling party Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz in Lahore.

Pakistani police have detained dozens of supporters of opposition leader Imran Khan and banned public rallies, triggering clashes with opposition activists in parts of Islamabad.

The arrests late on October 27 prompted Khan to call for a nationwide protest on October 28 despite the government's move to preemptively ban such demonstrations.

The government said the ban imposed on October 27 on all political gatherings applies to Islamabad and the adjacent garrison city of Rawalpindi, and will remain in force for two months.

The ban appeared to be put in place to preempt a rally Khan's party had planned against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on November 2.

Khan, a popular former cricket star who leads the opposition Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf party, was defiant and threatened to lock down the capital to force Sharif to step down.

"No power can stop our rally," Khan said on October 27. "It is our legal, democratic, constitutional right."

"Tomorrow I will protest throughout Pakistan, our workers will protest throughout Pakistan -- especially over the way women were mishandled" in the arrests and street clashes, he said.

"If the government wants to arrest me, they may go ahead. But for how long they can keep us inside, we will again hit roads after our release."

The arrests and government move to preempt demonstrations against Sharif has infuriated Khan's supporters.

"The government has proved that there is no democracy in Pakistan, it is a monarchy," a lawmaker from Khan's party, Asad Umar, said.

But cabinet member Saad Rafique denounced Khan's plan, saying it was aimed at disrupting life in Islamabad. He suggested Khan needs to see a psychiatrist, although he said the government has no plans to arrest him.

Sharif, who is serving his third term as prime minister, faces mounting public pressures after his family members were named as holders of offshore bank accounts in leaked financial documents from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Sharif has defended his family business before parliament and in two televised speeches. Pakistan's Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing on the scandal on November 1.

Khan's party is one of five petitioners who have approached the top court requesting an investigation into the scandal. The court has asked the prime minister to file a reply to the allegations made in the petitions.

Separately, an Islamabad high court asked Khan's party on October 27 to explain by October 31 what his plans are for the march against the prime minister. The court declared that no road is to be blocked, either by the protesters or the government.

Sharif's aides are calling on Khan's party to postpone the street protests and wait for the court decision.

One of Sharif's allies, parliamentarian Talal Chaudhry, said that Khan's recent statements suggested his party had plans to paralyze the capital. "We wouldn't allow that," Chaudhry said.

With reporting by AP and AFP

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