Imran Khan supporters clash with police as he says arrest is a bid to ‘abduct and assassinate’ him
Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan has accused security forces of acting illegally after they led an overnight siege outside his house in Lahore in an attempt to arrest him.
The move prompted violent clashes with supporters of Mr Khan as they attempted to stop him being held. At least 70 people were injured as police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as security forces tried to enter the residence.
Mr Khan is under a criminal investigation over allegations of selling state gifts while he was prime minister, an accusation he has denied and termed as politically motivated.
Unrest across Pakistan continued for the second day as forces made fresh attempts to carry out the arrest – until a court ordered police to suspend their operation.
Videos showed police in riot gear firing tear gas and water cannons at hundreds of supporters of Mr Khan to break up the violent protests. Another video of Mr Khan’s residence in Zaman Park showed thick smoke billowing from the building.
Open firing by Rangers and Police. Zaman Park is under extreme attack!! Everyone must reach asap!! #زمان_پارک_پُہنچو pic.twitter.com/T18KWz6sI3
— PTI (@PTIofficial) March 15, 2023
Zaman Park under attack inside and outside, unbelievable! pic.twitter.com/efTZiz7wHE
— Virk Shahzaib (@VirkSh786) March 15, 2023
Mr Khan, who has been issuing statements through video messages and tweets, has called the attempts to arrest him a “mere drama” orchestrated by his successor, Shehbaz Shariff.
He has agreed to appear in court by 18 March, signing a “surety bond” and asking the court to stop the police from arresting him till the deadline.
“Clearly ‘arrest’ claim was mere drama because real intent is to abduct and assassinate. From tear gas and water cannons, they have now resorted to live firing,” he tweeted.
Mr Khan shared a video of his supporters showing bullet shells that they claimed were fired at them and not in the air during the overnight standoff.
“After our workers and ldrship [leadership] faced police onslaught since yesterday morning of tear gas, cannons with chemical water, rubber bullets & live bullets this morning; we now have Rangers taking over & are now in direct confrontation with the people,” he tweeted.
In a video message on Tuesday, Mr Khan called on his supporters to fight with or without him, as he said he could be jailed or even killed.
“You have to fight for your rights, you have to hit the streets. God has given Imran Khan everything. I am fighting your battle. I have fought all my life and will continue to do so. But if something happens to me, they put me in jail or kill me, you have to prove that you can fight even without Imran Khan,” he said.
Police came to arrest Mr Khan after a court ordered his arrest for non-appearance despite repeated summons.
The cricketer-turned-politician, who was ousted as prime minister last April, has cited security concerns for not attending. He was injured and a supporter was killed in an assassination bid in November.
If convicted in the case, Mr Khan faces being barred from public office, in a major setback to his ambition to run as prime minister again.
The domestic political turmoil has thrown the nation into economic uncertainty as it struggled to strike a deal with the International Monetary Fund for an urgent bailout package.
Pakistan’s external debt jumped to $1.9bn in January, Dawn reported citing State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) data. The debt marked a jump of 30 per cent from last year.