Clashes between Pakistani police and supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan raged outside his home in the eastern city of Lahore on Wednesday, a day after officers went to arrest him for failing to appear in court on corruption charges.
The police operation sparked clashes between Khan supporters and police in major cities across the country, including Karachi, Islamabad, the garrison city of Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Quetta and other parts of Pakistan.
For the past 18 hours, police have been firing tear gas at the house as supporters of the 70-year-old opposition leader have thrown stones and bricks at the officers. The exclusive area of Zaman Park, where Khan lives, has been under siege since Tuesday. The government sent additional police officers to deal with the situation after hundreds of Khan’s supporters showed unexpected perseverance.
Early Wednesday, Khan left his home to meet his supporters, who faced tear gas and police batons throughout the night to save him from arrest. He said that he was ready to travel to Islamabad on March 18 under the order for his arrest, but the police did not accept the offer.
The confrontation outside the Khan’s house continued.
About a dozen police officers and about 35 Khan supporters were injured. Tear gas shells and chunks of brick littered the pavement as Khan’s supporters fought back with batons they had brought to resist police, who were preparing for a final effort to arrest Khan.
Khan, who was ousted in a vote of no confidence in parliament in April, was ordered to appear before a judge in Islamabad on Friday to face charges that he illegally sold state gifts he had received during his tenure as prime minister and concealed his estate.
The former prime minister has avoided court appearances since November, when he was injured in a gun attack at a protest rally in the eastern Punjab province, claiming he was not medically fit to travel from Lahore to Islamabad to face the accusation.
Last week, he went to Islamabad to appear before three courts, but he did not appear before the fourth court to face the prosecution in the corruption case, which is a legal process to start his trial.
Khan has claimed that the series of cases against him, which include 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 Pakistan’s Geo TV that Khan’s arrest was ordered by a court and was not a matter of political victimization.
“We will arrest him and we will do it by court order,” Shahzad Bukhari, deputy inspector general of the Islamabad police, told reporters in Lahore. Later, Bukhari was also slightly injured in the violence and received first aid from police medics on the spot.
However, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a top leader in Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said the government was trying to disrupt law and order by sending police officers to Khan’s home.
“We are ready to find a middle way through talks with the police, but we must know what is the purpose of today’s police raid,” he said. “Don’t make the situation worse. Let’s sit down and talk about what they want,” Qureshi told police.
He said Khan might consider volunteering his arrest, “but let’s talk first.”
Fawad Chaudhry, another senior party leader, said Khan’s legal team was in the process of applying to the Islamabad High Court to stay the arrest warrants against Khan. Khan’s lawyers also legally challenged the court orders before another Islamabad court on Tuesday.
From inside his home, Khan urged his supporters to keep fighting even if he is arrested. “They think this nation will fall asleep when Imran Khan is jailed,” he wrote on Twitter. “You have to prove them wrong.”
Police said reinforcements were heading to Khan’s house to control the situation.
Television footage showed tear gas shells falling inside Khan’s home.
Angered by Khan’s expected arrest, his supporters took to the streets of Pakistan, blocking some key highways near Islamabad and calling on the government to refrain from arresting Khan.
“We will arrest this man on warrant and he ran away to avoid arrest,” said Home Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan, who is not related to the former prime minister. He said that Khan will be brought before the court.