Pakistan police arrest dozens of Imran Khan supporters

  • World
  • Monday, 20 Mar 2023

A police officer fires a tear gas can as supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan clash with police outside a Federal Judicial Complex in Islamabad, Pakistan March 18, 2023. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) -Former Prime Minister Imran Khan has asked the chief justice of Pakistan to allow him to appear for court proceedings virtually to reduce the risk of any threat to his life, he said in a video message on Monday, as his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party prepared for a rally in Lahore on Wednesday.

Supporters of Khan's party, clashed with police in the city of Lahore last week as they attempted to arrest him at his home, and later with police in Islamabad as he arrived to appear before a court on Saturday.

"My life is in danger, why must I appear in court," said Khan in a live video stream, asking to appear by video conference for court proceedings and vowing: "I will appear for all cases".

Police in Pakistan have arrested dozens of supporters and aides of Khan in raids in two cities as part of a crackdown on those involved in recent clashes with the security forces, Khan's party and police said on Monday.

Khan, a former cricket star, was prime minister from 2018 until 2022, when he was ousted from office in a parliamentary vote. Since then he has been demanding a snap election and holding protest rallies across the country to press his case.

His successor as prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, has rejected his demand and said an election would be held as scheduled later this year.

Khan, 70, is facing several legal cases, including one that prompted a failed attempt to arrest him on Tuesday after a court issued warrants for his arrest for not appearing before it.

Clashes between Khan's supporters and the security forces have brought a new round of political chaos to Pakistan, which is in the midst of a crippling economic crisis.

Khan says the government and the powerful military are trying to stop him from contesting the next election, scheduled for November. If convicted in a case, Khan could face disqualification from the polls.

Both the government and military deny this.

Police in both Lahore and Islamabad confirmed the raids and the arrest of PTI workers they said were involved in clashes with police and arson.

"Police are raiding the houses because seven cases on various charges, including terrorism, have been registered against the leaders and workers," Lahore police chief Bilal Kamiana told Reuters referring to the clashes with police.

He said 125 activists had been arrested in Lahore, including some last week.

In Islamabad, a police spokesman said 198 PTI supporters had been arrested in connection with arson and attacks on police in which 58 people were injured and more than a dozen vehicles, including some police cars, were set ablaze.

More raids were being carried out, the spokesman said.

Khan, remembered by many for his success as a cricket player and later for his charity work, won considerable support among sections of the electorate with his conservative, nationalistic policies.

(Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore and Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad; Editing by Robert Birsel and Bernadette Baum)

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