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ISLAMABAD: Hostility between the government and opposition further escalated on Friday after Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's (PTI) provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa declined opposition's anti-government alliance - Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) - the permission to hold a public gathering on Sunday (Nov 22)in Peshawar, which attracted condemnation from two major opposition parties - Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N).

Available with Business Recorder, a copy of refusal letter, dated November 20, 2020, sent by Deputy Commissioner Peshawar Muhammad Ali Asghar to opposition leaders Faisal Karim Kundi, Sardar Hussain Babak, Atta-ul-Haq Darwaish, Murtaza Javed Abbasi and Hasham Babar, reads "The Covid-19 positivity rate for district Peshawar has presently exceeded 13 percent, which is alarmingly high, and any large public gathering is likely to further increase the spread of life threatening virus. Keeping in view the above, and after considering all aspects, and to safeguard human lives due to potential spread of Covid-19 virus, the undersigned regrets to inform you that permission for the said event has not be granted."

Reacting to this development, PPP Parliamentary Leader in Senate Sherry Rehman said "This is a classic manifestation of the fear and confusion the PDM's protest campaign has caused in the ranks of the government."

In a statement issued on Friday, she said the PDM would hold the public gathering in Peshawar "come what may."

"The opposition is removing PDM's posters and banners in Peshawar and using intimidating tactics to suppress our protest campaign. We would not be scared," she said adding that the public gathering in Peshawar and other parts of the country would take place as per routine.

"We are planning a grand long march to Islamabad and they (government) are scared just by Peshawar jalsa plans. It's just the tip of the iceberg. Troublesome times are awaiting this government," she said.

Rehman questioned why the government is using preventive measures against Covid-19 as an excuse to keep opposition away from holding public gatherings when Prime Minister Imran Khan himself is addressing public gatherings and participating in public events.

"Aren't the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) against coronavirus applicable on the PM? Is he above the law?

PML-N also reacted to the provincial government's decision to decline PDM the permission to hold public gathering in Peshawar. "The public movement cannot be stopped by the highhandedness of the government. We strongly condemn the provincial government's decision," the opposition party said in a statement.

It said the PDM's protest campaign would continue as per the plan in different parts of the country. Despite the government's refusal to grant permission to PDM to hold public gathering in Peshawar, the jalsa will take place, the statement added.

"The government would be responsible for consequences if it used highhanded methods to stop the peaceful public from assembling and exercising their democratic right to participate in a political gathering," the statement added.

Meanwhile, government sources told Business Recorder that KP government will arrest the PDM leadership if they defied the government's instructions and assembled to hold public gathering in Peshawar on Sunday. The provincial government would exercise its authority under Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) laws, a KP government functionary said requesting anonymity.

"We are willing to meet the opposition leaders and convince them not to hold the public gathering in Peshawar in the backdrop of alarming spread of COVID-19. But, if they are not ready to listen, then action would be taken. Political gatherings cannot be allowed at the expense of risking human lives," the official said.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2020