Two supporters of a Pakistani opposition party have died from use of tear gas by police trying to keep hundreds of people from entering the capital, Islamabad, for a protest to demand the prime minister resign, the party said on Tuesday. Opposition leader Imran Khan accused police of “brutality” in clashes with supporters, but is sticking to plans to bring out a million protesters on Wednesday, to press Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down, or agree to a corruption inquiry.
Khan’s earlier vow to “shut down” Islamabad prompted a citywide ban on gatherings and the arrests of hundreds of opposition activists accused of defying the ban. Supporters of the cricketer-turned-politician clashed with police overnight as they streamed towards the capital from his political stronghold, the northeastern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Police manning barricades on the roads into the capital have been mostly armed with large sticks and batons but have repeatedly used tear gas to drive back the crowds.
“Two of our workers have been killed due to excessive use of expired tear-gas shells,” Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a senior leader of Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), said on Geo TV.
One worker died from respiratory failure and the other from wounds suffered in police clashes, said Anila Khawaja, a spokeswoman for PTI, Pakistan’s second-largest opposition party. Authorities could not immediately be reached to confirm any deaths. Khan accused Sharif’s government of heavy-handed tactics and praised his supporters for trying to force their way into the city.
“They confronted Punjab police’s brutality and use of lethal expired tear gas,” he said in a statement. Khan, a former national cricketing hero, has vowed not to back down unless Sharif resigns, or submits to investigation over the “Panama Papers” leaks.
In a bid to resolve the crisis, Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments over the terms of reference for any inquiry into the prime minister’s finances. It adjourned the hearings in early afternoon and will resume deliberations on Thursday.
Documents leaked from the Panama-based Mossack Fonseca law firm in April appeared to show that Sharif’s daughter and two sons owned offshore holding companies registered in the British Virgin Islands. Sharif’s family denies wrongdoing.
Holding offshore companies is not illegal in Pakistan, but Khan has implied the money was gained by corruption. Khan admitted in May that he himself used an offshore company to legally avoid paying British tax on a London property sale.