Supporters of ex-Pakistani leader Imran Khan clash with police trying to arrest him
LAHORE, Pakistan – Pakistani police clashed with supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday as officers arrived outside his home to arrest him for failing to appear in court on corruption charges, police said and officials.
The police operation sparked clashes between Khan’s supporters and police in major cities across the country.
Police in the eastern city of Lahore planned to serve Khan with a warrant to appear in court later this week. They fired tear gas at the house as supporters of the 71-year-old opposition leader threw rocks and bricks at the officers.
After 10 hours of clashes, police were no closer to arresting Khan and officers backed down at midnight as the number of Khan’s supporters grew.
A dozen police officers and some 35 Khan supporters were reportedly injured. Tear gas shells and broken bricks littered the sidewalk as Khan supporters fought back with batons they had brought to resist police.
Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament last April, was ordered to appear before a judge in Islamabad on Friday to answer charges of illegally selling state gifts he received while in office. as Prime Minister and hiding his assets.
The former prime minister has avoided appearing in court since November, when he was injured in a gun attack during a protest rally in the eastern province of Punjab, saying he was not medically fit to travel from Lahore to Islamabad to face arraignment.
Last week, he traveled to Islamabad to appear in three courts, but failed to appear in the fourth court to face an indictment in the bribery case, which is a legal procedure to begin his trial.
Khan has claimed the series of charges against him, which includes terrorism charges, are a plot by the government of his successor Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif to discredit the former cricket star turned Islamist politician.
On Tuesday, Sharif told Pakistani Geo TV that Khan’s arrest had been ordered by a court and was not a political victimization.
“We are going to arrest him and will do so by order of the court,” Shahzad Bukhari, deputy inspector general of Islamabad police, told reporters earlier in Lahore. Bukhari was later lightly injured in the violence and received first aid from police medics at the scene.
However, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a senior leader of Khan’s Pakistani Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said the government was trying to disrupt law and order by sending police to Khan’s home.
“We are ready to find a middle way through talks with the police, but we need to know what the purpose of today’s raid is,” he said. “Don’t make the situation worse. Let’s sit down and discuss whatever you want,” Qureshi asked the police. He said Khan might consider offering his arrest voluntarily, “but let’s talk first.”
Fawad Chaudhry, another senior party official, said Khan’s legal team was in the process of submitting a request to the High Court in Islamabad to have the warrants against Khan suspended. Khan’s lawyers also legally challenged the warrants in another court in Islamabad later on Tuesday.
From inside his home, Khan urged his followers to fight on even if he is arrested in a post on Twitter. “They think this nation will go to sleep when Imran Khan is imprisoned,” he said. “You have to prove them wrong.”
Police said reinforcements were on their way to Khan’s house to bring the situation under control.
Television footage showed tear gas shells falling inside Khan’s home.
Angered by Khan’s planned arrest, his supporters took to the streets of Pakistan, blocking some key roads near Islamabad while demanding the government refrain from arresting Khan.
“We are going to arrest this man by court order and he fled to avoid arrest,” said Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan, who is not related to the former prime minister. He said Khan will appear in court.
Earlier on Tuesday, Sharif’s government made cabinet-approved changes to clarify laws prohibiting officials from keeping valuable state gifts received during their tenure. The ban specifies that no official – including the country’s prime minister, the president’s figurehead and cabinet ministers – may keep a gift worth more than $300.
The ban states that any recipient must deposit such a gift with the state depositary, known as Toshakhana in the Urdu language, within one month of receiving it. Donations would now be seen as state property, he added.
Impoverished Pakistan has been dragged into a deepening economic crisis and is trying to negotiate a desperately needed bailout from the International Monetary Fund to avoid a default.
Until his ouster, Khan’s government had blocked the disclosure of any information about gifts officials received from visiting dignitaries. In the past, officials receiving a gift – regardless of its value – symbolically reimbursed the state coffers with a small amount and kept the gift.
In a major U-turn, the Sharif government on Monday released a list of gifts given to officials from previous administrations, listing the value of each item and minor amounts paid by recipients since 2002.