Pakistani police burst into former Prime Minister Khan’s home and arrest 61 people
LAHORE, Islamabad (AP) — Pakistani police stormed the residence of former Prime Minister Imran Khan in the eastern city of Lahore on Saturday and arrested 61 people amid tear gas and clashes between supporters of Khan and the police, officials said.
Senior Police Officer Suhail Sukhera, who led the operation in an upscale area of Lahore, said police acted to remove a barricade erected by members of Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party and his defiant supporters . He said they blocked the lanes around Khan’s residence with concrete blocks, felled trees, tents and a parked truck.
Khan was not in the house, having traveled to Islamabad to appear before a judge to face charges, he sold state gifts while in office and hid his possessions. The judge postponed this hearing to March 30.
Sukhera said Khan supporters armed with batons tried to resist police by throwing stones and Molotov cocktails and a man on the roof of Khan’s residence opened fire. At least three police officers were injured.
Sukhera said police broke into the main gate of Khan’s residence and found automatic weapons, Molotov cocktails, iron bars and batons used in attacks on police during the week. Sukhera said inside the sprawling residence, illegal structures had been erected to house those involved in attacks on police that injured dozens of officers.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah later said police would conduct a full search of Khan’s home, where they found bunkers and suspected other illegal weapons and ammunition were hidden. He said that in Islamabad, Khan and many of his followers were armed.
Witnesses in Lahore said police tried to disperse Khan’s supporters by firing tear gas and chased them into several houses in the Zaman Park area. Khan’s lawyer appeared in a court in Islamabad on Saturday after a high court on Friday suspended Khan’s arrest warrant, granting him a reprieve to travel to Islamabad and face charges in the corruption case without being detained.
Khan had been locked up at his home in Lahore since Tuesday after failing to appear for an earlier hearing in the case. His supporters threw rocks and clashed with baton-wielding police for two days to protect the former prime minister from arrest.
Khan’s motorcade arrived near the Federal Court Complex in Islamabad on Saturday, where his supporters also clashed with police who barred them from entering the compound. Furious Khan supporters threw rocks at police who responded by throwing tear gas canisters to disperse them.
Khan’s lawyer, Babar Awan, filed a request to exempt Khan from appearing in court under special circumstances.
Justice Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar condemned Khan for not surrendering to police and failing to appear in court on Saturday despite arriving at the gate of the court complex. He accused Khan of using his protesting supporters to avoid indictment.
The Khan supporter torched two police vehicles and several motorbikes outside the court complex while dispersing, according to the justice minister.
Khan, during his road trip to Islamabad, said in a video message that police broke into his residence in Lahore while his wife was home alone. He condemned the action and demanded that those responsible be punished.
Khan’s PTI Party General Secretary Asad Umar in a letter to Pakistan’s Chief Justice noted that the police waited until Khan was on his way to Islamabad to storm his Lahore residence. He said “doors and walls were razed” and more than 40 people at the house were arrested.
Khan, now opposition leader, was ousted in a vote of no confidence in parliament last April. He is accused of selling state gifts while in office and concealing assets, charges he denies. It is one of many cases the former cricketer star turned Islamist politician has faced since his ousting.
Khan, 70, who has called for a snap election to parliament, claimed his removal from power was part of a plot by his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and the United States. Washington and Sharif’s government have denied the allegation.
Associated Press writer Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed.
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