ISLAMABAD: A police siege of areas around the Lahore residence of former prime minister Imran Khan continued well into the night on Tuesday, after a long day of clashes between police and supporters in which several on both sides were injured.
Police arrived outside Khan’s residence at 2pm in the afternoon to arrest him after an Islamabad court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant in a case related to the sale of state gifts, popularly called the Toshakhana reference. As it neared midnight, police were forced to move to a thoroughfare, The Mall, around 700 meters away from the Zaman Park neighborhood where Khan’s home is located, as tear gas they had shelled earlier in the day hung heavy in the air and more and more supporters gathered.
Afternoon television footage from outside Khan’s residence showed Punjab police in anti-riot gear arriving to back up their Islamabad counterparts as they tried to clear the road of Khan supporters.
Aerial shots showed heavy presence of law enforcement personnel around Khan’s residence and tear gas billowing from shells fired into his home. Charged supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party could also be seen throwing bricks and stones at police, as police rounded them up. Police also directed a water cannon at Khan supporters and in some cases baton charged them.
“The police have come to take me [to jail],” Khan said in a video message to supporters in the late afternoon. “If something happens to me or I go to jail or I am killed, you have to prove that this nation will [continue to] struggle even without Imran Khan.”
Amir Mir, caretaker information minister of Punjab, of which Lahore is the capital, told media PTI workers started the violence that injured several police officials.
“If Imran Khan ensures his presence in the court, it will be good, otherwise the law will take its course,” Mir said.
In a TV interview broadcast on Tuesday night, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif denied his government was behind attempts to arrest Khan.
“The courts have issued the arrest warrants, not me or my government,” Sharif said, when asked if Khan’s arrest would increase political instability. “If the [Punjab] administration does not follow the court’s orders then what will happen?”
Apart from the Toshakhana case, the ex-premier has been booked in over 70 different cases on various charges, including blasphemy, terrorism and sedition. He was ousted from power in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence last April and has since held rallies and protest marches calling for the government to announce snap national elections. Khan says the cases against him are politically motivated, which the government denies.