ISLAMABAD: Police in Pakistan stormed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s residence in the eastern city of Lahore on Saturday and arrested 30 people amid tear gas shelling after someone opened fire from the roof of the building, officials said.
Senior police officer Suhail Sukhera, who is leading the operation in an upscale Lahore neighbourhood, said police moved to remove encroachments and a blockade erected by Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party and his defiant supporters.
He said baton-wielding Khan supporters attempted to resist police by throwing stones and petrol bombs, but the officers moved on until a man on the roof of Khan’s residence opened fire. No one was hurt.
Sukhera said police broke open the main door of Khan’s residence and found masks, petrol-filled bottles, iron rods and batons used in attacks on police during the week. Sukhera said that inside the sprawling residence, illegal structures were erected to shelter those who have been involved in attacks on police that have injured dozens of officers.
Witnesses said police attempted to disperse Khan supporters by firing tear gas and chased them to several homes in the Zaman Park neighbourhood. Khan was expected to appear in an Islamabad court on Saturday after a top court on Friday suspended his arrest warrant, giving him a reprieve to travel to Islamabad and face charges in a graft 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 premier from arrest.
Khan, during his road trip to Islamabad, said in a video message that the government had planned his arrest despite his travel to a hearing. He said police had broken into his residence in Lahore while his wife was alone at the home. He condemned the action and demanded that those responsible be punished.
Khan, in office from 2018 to 2022, is facing a spate of legal challenges, including one that prompted a failed attempt to arrest him on Tuesday.
He was to address charges in court on Saturday of unlawfully selling state gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries while in office. Khan says he followed legal procedures in acquiring the gifts.
Khan reached the capital on Saturday afternoon and was on his way to the court in a motorcade surrounded by supporters.
Islamabad’s police chief told local broadcaster Geo News that Khan’s supporters had attacked police near the court and fired teargas shells, prompting police to fire more teargas back.
The police chief for Punjab province, Usman Anwar, told a media conference in Lahore that officers went to Khan’s house on Saturday to intercept people who had been involved in earlier clashes with police and had arrested 61 people, including for throwing petrol bombs.
Committeee to lead party
Hours before leaving his home, the former cricket star told Reuters he has formed a committee to lead his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), if he is arrested.
Khan, who was shot and wounded while campaigning in November, said in the interview the threat to his life is greater than before and asserted - without providing evidence - that his political opponents and the military want to block him from standing in elections later this year.
Government ‘intends to arrest me’
The court has previously issued arrest warrants for Khan in the case as he had failed to appear on previous hearings despite summonses.
On his assurance that he would appear on Saturday, the court granted Khan protection against arrest, but he said he feared the police and government planned to take him into custody.
“It is now clear that, despite my having gotten bail in all my cases, the (Pakistan Democratic Movement coalition) govt intends to arrest me. Despite knowing their malafide intentions, I am proceeding to Islamabad & the court bec(ause) I believe in rule of law,” Khan said on Twitter.
“It is also obvious now that the entire siege of Lahore was not about ensuring I appear before the court in a case but was intended to take me away to prison so that I am unable to lead our election campaign.” Pakistan’s information minister said this week the government had nothing to do with the police action and the police were complying with court orders.
The case to be heard on Saturday pertains to charges that Khan sold luxury watches and other items given to the state during his term as prime minister.