by Kaneez Fatima
LAHORE, PAKISTAN — Supporters of former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan clashed repeatedly with police overnight as he remained holed up in his Lahore residence early Wednesday, defying attempts to arrest him.
Khan was ousted from office by a no-confidence vote last year and has been snarled in a series of legal cases as he campaigns for early elections and a return to office.
Police fought pitched battles with supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party near his Zaman Park residence throughout the night, firing fusillades of teargas and dodging rocks thrown by angry crowds.
Khan issued a video shortly before dawn, sitting in front of Pakistan and PTI flags at a desk decorated with spent teargas canisters.
“I am telling the entire nation today that they are ready once again, they’re going to come again,” he said.
“They will teargas our people and do other such things, but you should know that they have no justification to do so.”
Video circulating on social media — much distributed by official PTI accounts — showed several bloodied supporters and others struggling to cope with tear gas.
A PTI official tweeted that there was “an urgent need” for first aid kits at the Zaman Park neighbourhood.
A party account also showed a video of teargas canisters landing inside Khan’s garden, but police did not appear to breach the gate or the wall.
“The way the police attack our people… there is no precedent for this,” Khan said.
“Water canons, teargas… they shelled inside the house where there were servants and women.”
It is the second time in recent weeks that police have been sent from the capital Islamabad to Khan’s home in the eastern city of Lahore to serve an arrest warrant after he skipped several court dates linked to a corruption case citing security concerns.
“We are here basically to execute the warrants and to arrest him,” Syed Shahzad Nadeem Bukhari, deputy inspector general of Islamabad police, told reporters Tuesday outside Khan’s residence.
Officers were met by hundreds of Khan supporters, some wielding sticks and hurling stones, draped in the red-and-green PTI flags.
Police fired a water cannon and tear gas on the crowds as they attempted to clear a path to Khan’s house, holding signs plastered with the arrest warrant for the 70-year-old opposition leader.
PTI deputy leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi told reporters on Tuesday that “we want to be peaceful”.
Qureshi insisted police should deliver the arrest warrant to him and said he would “try to find a solution to avoid bloodshed”.
Khan has been summoned to court to answer accusations he did not declare gifts received during his time as prime minister, or the profit made from selling them.
The first attempt officers made to detain the onetime cricket superstar was thwarted because he was “reluctant to surrender”, police said, without offering further details.
Khan has been pressuring the coalition government that replaced him, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, with popular rallies and daily addresses.
Last year, he was shot in the leg at a demonstration, an assassination bid he blamed on Sharif.
As the political drama unfolds ahead of an election due no later than October, Pakistan is in the grip of a stark economic downturn, risking default if help cannot be secured from the International Monetary Fund.
The security situation is also deteriorating with a spate of deadly attacks on police headquarters, linked to the Pakistani Taliban.