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Imran Khan appears in court and chaos erupts

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan appeared in court on corruption charges in the capital Islamabad on Saturday in the latest round of a standoff between his supporters and authorities that led to chaotic scenes of tear gas and lines conflicting security in front of his home. earlier in the week.

This confrontation continued on Saturday morning, when Mr Khan arrived at court surrounded by a crowd of his supporters, who clashed with police outside the court complex. The court allowed Mr Khan, who claimed he could not enter the court building due to the chaos outside, to record his appearance from inside his vehicle.

Mr Khan, who was removed from office in a parliamentary vote of no confidence in April, faces dozens of legal cases on terrorism and corruption charges. Several arrest warrants have against him after he repeatedly refused to appear in court in Islamabad. The hearing he tried to attend on Saturday was on charges of unlawful profit by accepting state gifts and concealing his assets.

This week’s clashes, as police tried to arrest Mr Khan at his Lahore residence, were the latest spectacle of tight-rope politics to play out on the streets of Pakistan, as clouds ​tear gas mingled with angry mobs of Mr Khan supporters who camped outside his house and effectively took on the role of his personal bodyguards.

The violent scenes offered a grim reminder of the state of politics in Pakistan, which has struggled with instability and military coups since its founding 75 years ago. The political scene has become a game of dynasties competing alternately in favor and out of favor with the country’s mighty military establishment, with the victors wielding the country’s legal system against their rivals.

Since being ousted from power last year, Mr Khan has led a powerful political campaign drawing tens of thousands to rallies across the country demanding new elections.

At the same time, the state has filed dozens of lawsuits against Mr. Khan. He and his supporters have slammed the accusations as a misuse of the justice system by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government and the military to keep Mr Khan out of politics. Pakistani political and military leaders have repeatedly denied these claims.

Political tensions around Mr Khan came to a head in November, when the former prime minister was injured at a political rally after an unidentified man opened fire on his convoy, in what aides called it an assassination attempt. Since then, Mr Khan has mostly settled into his residence in Lahore, Pakistan’s second city, and has refused to appear in court in Islamabad.

Fawad Chaudhry, a senior member of Mr Khan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or PTI, said the threat to Mr Khan’s life makes court appearances much riskier, adding: “There is no is not humanly possible to appear in court so many cases.

Mr Khan says the state has filed more than 86 lawsuits against him. Government officials say he is facing around 30 cases.

The drama surrounding Mr Khan appears to have only boosted his popularity, analysts say, underscoring his unique ability to outsmart Pakistan’s typical playbook to weed out political leaders who have fallen out of favor with the country’s mighty military. .

On Tuesday, police, wearing white helmets and holding shields, lined up outside Mr Khan’s residence in Lahore to execute a warrant for the former prime minister’s arrest for failing to appear in court. Police used baton charges and tear gas canisters to disperse members and supporters of Khan’s political party during the long fight, which lasted for hours and into the evening.

Leaders of Mr Khan’s political party took to social media to share footage of tear gas canisters landing on the lawn outside his living room. Video clips showed party workers returning a canister to police from a nearby wall. In another video, party workers, holding sticks, were seen running for cover as clouds of tear gas engulfed the driveway of Mr Khan’s residence.

As battles ravaged the outskirts of his home, Mr Khan issued an impassioned plea to his supporters via a recorded video message, urging them to fight for their freedom and rights in the face of imminent arrest by the police. police. Mr Khan vowed to keep fighting as he urged his supporters to show they could stand up for their rights even in his absence.

“If they send me to jail or I get killed, you have to show that you can fight without me as well,” Khan said in the video.

Mr Khan has been criticized by his opponents for trying to avoid arrest and refusing to appear in court. But the violent confrontation outside his home drew widespread criticism.

“I am deeply saddened by today’s events. Politics of Unhealthy Revenge,” Arif Alvi, President of Pakistan and Member of Mr. Khan’s Political Party, tweeted on Tuesday, adding that it showed the “wrong priorities” of a government “which should focus on the economic misery of the people”.

After the clashes, Mr Khan agreed to appear in court on Saturday, traveling early that morning from his home in Lahore to Islamabad in a convoy flanked by large crowds.

As he made the hour-long trip, police returned to his Lahore residence and dismantled the barriers and sandbag bunkers erected in front of his home. Then another clash breaks out: the police say they were shot at and Molotov cocktails were thrown at them. Sixty-one people were arrested, said Amir Mir, the acting information minister of Punjab province.

Some had hoped that Mr Khan’s appearance in court on Saturday would defuse the tension that had built up over the past week. But clashes in Lahore and outside the courtroom in Islamabad have only added to the sense of chaos that has gripped Pakistan in recent months.

As the stalemate drags on, Mr Khan’s ability to turn attempts to marginalize him into political popularity has upended Pakistan’s political sphere, analysts say, and shattered the widely held belief that the military establishment – long considered like the invisible hand guiding politics – has a firm grip on the steering wheel.

“If Pakistan still had a functioning establishment like what we have always imagined, Imran Khan would either be prime minister already or firmly in prison and sidelined from politics,” said Adil Najam, a professor at the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies from Boston University. and an expert on Pakistani politics, referring to the military as the establishment, as it is popularly known in Pakistan. “The establishment has imploded – its supposed authority is gone.”

nytimes Gt

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