Wed. 8:24 a.m.: More clashes in Pakistan as police try to arrest Imran Khan
LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan threw bricks at police who fought back with clubs and tear gas for a second day today after officers tried to arrest the ousted premier for failing to appear in court on graft charges.
Police besieged the 70-year-old opposition leader’s house in the eastern city of Lahore since Tuesday as his supporters hurled rocks and bricks, and swung batons snatched from the officers. Clashes went on into the afternoon today before subsiding.
Violence was also reported between Khan’s supporters and police in other major cities, including Karachi, Islamabad, the garrison city of Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Quetta and elsewhere in Pakistan. The government sent additional police to Lahore’s upscale area of Zaman Park, where Khan lives.
Early today, Khan had emerged from his house to meet with his supporters, who had faced tear gas and police batons through the night to save him from arrest. He said he was ready to travel to Islamabad on March 18 under his arrest warrant, but that police did not accept the offer.
Khan later posed for cameras seated at a long table, showing off piles of spent tear gas shells he said had been collected from around his home.
“What crime did I commit that my house has been attacked like this,” he tweeted. Fawad Chaudhry, a senior party leader from Khan’s party claimed hundreds of Khan’s supporters were injured.
At the Islamabad High Court, Khan’s lawyer Khawaja Haris and his team petitioned for the suspension of the arrest warrant for the former premier. The court was expected to issue a ruling about the suspension later today.
By around 2 p.m., the situation calmed and police stepped back, apparently to ease tensions. This encouraged more Khan supporters to join those outside and inside his home as the situation calmed.
Many chanted Allahu akbar, the Arabic phrase for “God is great.” Khan, still wearing a gas mask, greeted them at his home.
Officials said security forces were told to move back from Khan’s house while the court in the capital, Islamabad, considered whether to suspend the warrant. Azhar Siddique, another lawyer for Khan, said the Lahore High Court ordered police to halt the operation outside Khan’s home until Thursday, though they will remain deployed there.
The Punjab provincial government said today that more than 100 police officers were injured in clashes with Khan’s supporters. They denied Khan’s allegation that officers were using live ammunition.
Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament in April, was ordered to appear before a judge in Islamabad on Friday to answer charges of illegally selling state gifts he had received during his term as premier and concealing his assets.
The former premier has avoided appearances before the court since November, when he was wounded in a gun attack at a protest rally in eastern Punjab province, claiming he was not medically fit to travel from Lahore to Islamabad to face indictment.
Last week, he went to Islamabad to appear before three courts, but he failed to appear before the fourth court to face indictment in the graft case, which is a legal process for starting his trial.
Khan has claimed that the string of cases 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.
From his home, Khan urged his followers on Tuesday to fight on even if he is arrested. “They think this nation will fall asleep when Imran Khan is jailed,” he wrote on Twitter. “You need to prove them wrong.”
Today, he tweeted that there was a plot “to abduct & assassinate” him.
Prime Minister Sharif today criticized Khan in televised remarks, saying that the ex-premier “considers himself above the law, and he has been defying court orders to avoid arrest.” Sharif insisted he had nothing to do with the arrest warrant, which he said was a court order and the police were only complying with it.
In Pakistan’s turbulent political history, at least seven former prime minister have been arrested in various cases and tried by courts since this South Asian country was created in 1947 after gaining independence from British colonial rule.
Former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged by the military government in 1979 after his ouster in a coup. His daughter, Benazir Bhutto, served twice as prime minister and was assassinated during an election rally in 2007 in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.
Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s longest-serving premier and the brother of current prime minister, was in office from 1990 to 1993 and from 1997 to 1999, when was ousted in a military coup by Gen. Pervez Musharraf. He returned as premier in 2013 but was ousted by the country’s Supreme Court in 2017. He was later arrested, tried and convicted in a corruption case, although he has always denied the charges and today lives in exile in Britain.