LAHORE - In hot pursuit of PP-150, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf on Saturday announced to continue with its protest campaign against vote-rigging in by-poll to the provincial constituency, and to expand it through all district headquarters in Punjab from Monday [tomorrow].

The protest drive against rigging in PP-150 by-poll would continue until the announcement of the correct results by the returning officer, PTI leader Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed said.

Policemen armed with truncheons stormed a PTI hunger camp on The Mall in Lahore, hauling up dozens of party leaders and workers.

Mehmoodur Rasheed, who himself got arrested, claimed the returning officer had skewed the election results. The protest would not be halted and PTI would also move the election tribunal, said Rasheed, who is also the opposition leader in the Punjab Assembly.

Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf believes their candidate Mehar Wajid Azeem won the by-poll with a margin of more than 2,000 votes. Azeem said he would file an application for a vote recount.

Party’s Punjab president Ijaz Chaudhry, who was at PTI’s protest camp near Faisal Square, maintained that Wajid Azeem was the real winner. “The ruling party [Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz] is answerable for its ‘brutal action’ directed towards PTI legislators and workers, protesting against the injustice of rigging in the by-election,” he asserted.

Chaudhry told this scribe PTI would hold demonstrations across the province against the vote-rigging and brutal acts against party leaders and activists who, he said, were holding peaceful protests.

Insisting that Wajid Azeem won with a margin of over 2000 votes, Chaudhry complained the returning officer had, in a discreditable act, announced PML-N candidate Mian Marghoob as the winner. The PTI leader vowed to unveil PML-N lawmakers’ corrupt practices in the first 100 days of their rule.

Later, talking to newsmen, Chaudhry said the protest camp would be temporarily suspended till Monday, 03:00 pm. On the other hand, Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed said PTI should move the election tribunal if it had any complaints about PP-150 poll results. He told the media the government would provide complete security to PTI protestors if they selected some other venue for their protest.

Dozens of PTI leaders and workers, including Mehmoodur Rasheed, Ijaz Chaudhry, Mehar Wajid Azeem, Andleeb Abbas, Ishtiaq Malik, Rana Akhtar, Shabbir Sial and Dr Nosheen Hamid, were arrested when armed policemen tried to placate their protest camp at Mall Road. No PTI worker or leader received any critical injury, however.  The arrested demonstrators were later taken to Mughalpura Police Station and later released on orders from Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. Once released, they started their protest again. 

The district coordination officer for Lahore said PTI activists could not stage a protest while imposition of Section-144 at Mall Road. He said the city was facing traffic jams due to PTI activists protest.

DIG Operations Rai Tahir, while talking to the media, said the arrested protesters had been released, but they could be nabbed again for blocking the main artery.

He said police won’t arrest any protestor if they restricted themselves to their camp at the roadside and let traffic run smoothly.  Including Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, Pakistan People’s Party and Jamaat-e-Islami, other opposition parties condemned the provincial government’s action against PTI activists and called it an ‘unlawful act’. They said holding a protest demonstration was the democratic right of every citizen and that police had laid hands on PTI leaders and supports at the behest of the provincial rulers.

The PTI leaders and workers, arrested on The Mall, were immediately released on the orders of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. The chief minister, taking notice of the arrest of PTI leaders and workers on The Mall, had ordered their immediate release. He, however, said that no one could be allowed to create hindrance in the smooth flow of traffic and daily routine of citizens on the pretext of protest.