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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan and his cabinet members took to Twitter on Saturday to slam the opposition's Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) for its decision to go ahead with Peshawar jalsa (public gathering) scheduled today (Sunday) despite denial of permission by the provincial government to hold the event in the backdrop of alarming spread of coronavirus.

"The same PDM members who had wanted a strict lockdown and criticised me earlier now playing reckless politics with people's safety. They are even defying court orders and holding a jalsa when cases are rising dramatically," the Premier tweeted. His cabinet members also criticised the PDM for its insistence to hold a public gathering in Peshawar. "Risking the lives and health of public for personal interests is the highest order of selfishness," tweeted Federal Information Minister Shibli Faraz. A First Information Report (FIR) would be registered against the organizers of the public gatherings in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in case COVID-19 cases record a rise, the tweet said. Taking a jibe at Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People's Party (PPP) for their 'dual standards' regarding COVID-19, Federal Planning Minister Asad Umar tweeted, "PML-N government announced complete lockdown for two weeks in AJK (Azad Jammu and Kashmir). PPP's Sindh government announced smart lockdown in four districts of Karachi. But both the parties are adamant to hold a jalsa in Peshawar. There can be no better example of dual standards than this one."

PM's Special Assistant on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill attacked Bakhtawar Bhutto Zardari and PPP. "It is mandatory to send coronavirus test report in order to attend Bakhtawar's engagement ceremony. Otherwise, you would not be allowed to enter Bilawal House. Your (opposition leaders) lives are so dear to you but why you don't bother about the lives of common citizens when you invite them to attend your public gatherings? This is the arrogant mindset that considers people as the inferior ones," he tweeted.

"My message to the nation: Give respect to the ballot but let the voters die of coronavirus. They are least bothered even if coronavirus shakes the foundations of this country because their children and other blood relations are out of the country and they need poor public to make them scapegoats," tweeted Federal Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.

"Opposition's attitude is dangerous. It is not a joke to play with the lives of the people...." tweeted Federal Science and Technology Minister Fawad Hussain Chaudhry.

"Opposition's attitude regarding coronavirus proves that it is ready to endanger the lives of people for its 'give NRO movement,' tweeted Federal Industries Minister Hammad Azhar.

"The opposition should learn from Gilgit-Baltistan experience that public gatherings would not help. People have seen their true faces so it is better not to risk the lives of the public," he wrote in another tweet.

PM's tweet against PDM attracted reaction from opposition parties. "Thankfully, coronavirus finally got the attention of the PM by virtue of opposition's public gatherings," PPP's Sherry Rehman said in a statement.

"When the PM saw his government slipping out of his hands, he is suddenly reminded of the threat posed by coronavirus. Opposition will rid the public of both this government and coronavirus," the statement added.

"This government is more dangerous a threat to this country than coronavirus. It is essential to get rid of this government before anything else," said PML-N's Rana Sanaullah.

PDM and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman said "This government is shaken to the hilt seeing PDM's successful protest movement. The wave of public resentment has unnerved the rulers who are now taking refuge from reality in the garb of taking action against spread of coronavirus."

The PDM's Peshawar jalsa would be held come what may, he told the media in Peshawar. The government would be responsible if it resorts to highhandedness, he said.

PDM's Vice President Abdul Ghafoor Haideri from JUI-F told the media in Islamabad that all arrangements for Peshawar jalsa are ready.

Meanwhile, PML-N Vice President Maryam Nawaz tweeted that Nawaz Sharif would not be able to virtually address the Peshawar gathering because "he is still in a lot of pain," referring to reported pain in his kidney.

Earlier on Friday, the KP government refused to grant permission to PDM to hold a public gathering in Peshawar, citing an 'alarming' increase in COVID-19 cases.

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, (available with Business Recorder) reads, "The COVID-19 positivity rate for district Peshawar has presently exceeded 13 per cent, 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."

The government sources told Business Recorder that the 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), a KP government functionary, requesting anonymity, said.

"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