Pakistan ex-PM Khan defies arrest as supporters clash with police
AFP | Lahore
The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com
Supporters of former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan clashed repeatedly with police as he remained holed up in his Lahore residence Wednesday, defying attempts to arrest him.
Khan was ousted from office by a no-confidence vote last year, and has been snarled in a series of legal cases as he campaigns for early elections and a return to office.
Police and paramilitary rangers fought pitched battles with supporters of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party near his Zaman Park home throughout the night, firing fusillades of teargas and dodging rocks thrown by angry crowds.
Lahore police spokesman Syed Mubashir said more than 35 policemen had been injured since the operation began.
Khan issued a video shortly before dawn, sitting in front of Pakistan and PTI flags at a desk decorated with spent teargas canisters.
"They're going to come again," he said.
"They will teargas our people and do other such things, but you should know that they have no justification to do so."
On Wednesday morning hundreds of PTI supporters had ringed Khan's residence in the plush neighbourhood, holding off at least one fresh attempt by police to storm the premises.
Video circulating on social media -- much distributed by official PTI accounts -- showed several bloodied supporters and others struggling to cope with tear gas.
A PTI official tweeted that there was "an urgent need" for first aid kits at the Zaman Park neighbourhood.
A party account also showed video of teargas canisters landing inside Khan's garden, but police did not appear to breach the gate or the wall.
- 'No precedent' -
"The way the police attack our people, there is no precedent for this," Khan said.
"Water canons, teargas... they shelled inside the house where there were servants and women."
Khan later tweeted pictures of bullet casings purportedly collected from the scene, but a Punjab government official denied live rounds were fired.
"Clearly 'arrest' claim was mere drama because real intent is to abduct & assassinate," Khan tweeted.
"From tear gas & water cannons, they have now resorted to live firing."
Groups of PTI supporters also marched in the southern port city of Karachi and Peshawar in the northwest, blocking roads with bonfires.
It is the second time in recent weeks that police have been sent from the capital Islamabad to Khan's home in the eastern city of Lahore to serve an arrest warrant after he skipped several court dates linked to a corruption case citing security concerns.
"We are here basically to execute the warrants and to arrest him," Syed Shahzad Nadeem Bukhari, deputy inspector general of Islamabad police, told reporters Tuesday outside Khan's residence.
Punjab police chief Usman Anwar told Geo TV Wednesday they had to comply with the court's order "at all costs".
One senior PTI official said the Islamabad High Court would meet Wednesday to hear a petition to prevent Khan's arrest, which could defuse the situation.
Party officials were also filing a similar petition with a Lahore court.
Khan, 70, has been summoned to court to answer accusations he did not declare gifts received during his time as prime minister, or the profit made from selling them.
The first attempt officers made to detain the onetime cricket superstar was thwarted because he was "reluctant to surrender", police said, without offering further details.
Khan has been pressuring the coalition government that replaced him, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, with popular rallies and daily addresses.
Last year the former international cricket star was shot in the leg during a political rally, an assassination bid he blamed on Sharif.
As the political drama unfolds ahead of an election due no later than October, Pakistan is in the grip of a stark economic downturn, risking default if help cannot be secured from the International Monetary Fund.
The security situation is also deteriorating with a spate of deadly attacks on police headquarters, linked to the Pakistani Taliban.
"The standoff in Lahore reflects the worst state of affairs in the country," said Tauseef Ahmed Khan, an author, political analyst and human rights activist
"On one side, it is failure of police and the law enforcement agencies... on the other, this has been a new trend in the South Asian politics -- that a political leader is defying the arrest by using his workers and supporters."