Pakistan unrest: Supporters clash with police trying to arrest Khan

Police attempts to arrest former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan have triggered two days of street clashes with supporters. Since 1947, at least seven former prime ministers of Pakistan have been arrested in various cases and tried by courts.

K.M. Chaudary/AP
A supporter of former Prime Minister Imran Khan hurls back a tear gas shell fired by riot police officers to disperse them during clashes, in Lahore, Pakistan, March 15, 2023. Violence was also reported between Mr. Khan's supporters and police in other major cities.

After clashing with supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan outside his home for a second day Wednesday, police paused their efforts to arrest the ousted premier for failing to appear in court last week on graft charges.

Police had 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 officers. Police fired tear gas and clashes went on into the afternoon Wednesday before subsiding.

Violence was also reported between Mr. 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 Mr. Khan lives.

Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Khan had emerged from his house to meet with supporters, who had faced tear gas and police batons through the night to defend him from arrest. He said he was ready to travel to Islamabad on March 18 under the arrest warrant, but that police did not accept the offer.

Mr. 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 Mr. Khan’s party claimed hundreds of Mr. Khan’s supporters were injured.

At the Islamabad High Court, Mr. Khan’s lawyer Khawaja Haris petitioned for the suspension of the warrants for the former premier but the court denied the motion.

Mr. 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 in 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 failed to appear before the fourth court to face indictment in the graft case, which is a legal process for starting his trial.

Mr. Khan has claimed that the string of cases against him, which includes terrorism charges, is a plot by the government of his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, to discredit the former cricket star turned Islamist politician.

The situation in Lahore calmed in the early afternoon, and the police stepped back, apparently to ease tensions. This encouraged more Khan supporters to join those outside and inside his home. Many chanted Allahu akbar, the Arabic phrase for “God is great” as Mr. Khan, still wearing a gas mask, greeted them.

Azhar Siddique, another lawyer for Mr. Khan, said the Lahore High Court ordered police to halt the operation outside Mr. Khan’s home until Thursday, though they would remain deployed nearby.

The Punjab provincial government said Wednesday that more than 100 police officers were injured in clashes with Khan’s supporters. They denied Mr. Khan’s allegation that officers were using live bullets.

From his home, Mr. Khan urged followers on Tuesday to fight 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.” On Wednesday, he tweeted that there was a plot “to abduct & assassinate” him.

Prime Minister Sharif on Wednesday criticized Mr. 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 ministers 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 the 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.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Munir Ahmed reported from Islamabad.

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