LAHORE, Islamabad (AP) — Pakistani police stormed the residence of former Prime Minister Imran Khan in the eastern city of Lahore on Saturday, arresting 61 people amid tear gas and clashes between Khan’s supporters and police, they said. The authorities.
Senior police officer Suhail Sukhera, who led the operation in an upmarket Lahore neighbourhood, said police moved to remove a roadblock 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 at home as he traveled to Islamabad to appear before a judge to face charges that he sold state gifts while in office and concealed his assets. The judge postponed that hearing until March 30.
Sukhera said Khan’s supporters wielding batons tried to resist police by throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails and that a man on the roof of Khan’s residence opened fire. At least three police officers were injured.
Sukhera said police opened the front door of Khan’s residence and found automatic weapons, Molotov cocktails, iron bars and batons used in attacks on police throughout the week. Sukhera said inside the sprawling residence, illegal structures had been erected to house people involved in anti-police attacks that have injured dozens of officers.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah later said police would make a full search of Khan’s home, where they found bunkers and suspected more 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 to several houses in the Zaman Park neighborhood. Khan’s lawyer appeared in an Islamabad court on Saturday after a higher court on Friday stayed Khan’s arrest warrant, giving him a reprieve to travel to Islamabad and face charges in the corruption case without being detained.
Khan had been holed up at his home in Lahore since Tuesday after failing to appear at an earlier hearing in the case. His supporters hurled stones 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 prevented them from entering the compound. Angry Khan supporters hurled stones at police, who responded by firing tear gas canisters to disperse them.
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Khan’s lawyer, Babar Awan, filed an application for Khan’s exemption from appearing in court amid special circumstances.
Justice Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar condemned Khan for failing to turn himself in to police and fail to appear in court on Saturday despite reaching the gate of the court complex. He accused Khan of using his protesting supporters to avoid prosecution.
The Khan supporter set fire to two police vehicles and several motorcycles outside the court complex as he dispersed, according to the justice minister.
Khan, during his road trip to Islamabad, said in a video message that police broke into his Lahore residence while his wife was home alone. He condemned the action and demanded that those responsible be punished.
The general secretary of Khan’s PTI party, Asad Umar, in a letter to Pakistan’s Chief Justice said police waited until Khan was on his way to Islamabad to raid his residence in Lahore. He said that “the doors and walls have been razed to the ground” and more than 40 people in the house were arrested.
Khan, now the leader of the opposition, 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 a series of cases the former cricket star turned Islamist politician has faced since his ouster.
Khan, 70, who has called for early parliamentary elections, has claimed his removal from power was part of a conspiracy between his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and the United States. Both the Washington and Sharif governments have denied the accusation.