Supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan throw stones toward a police vehicle as police fire tear gas to disperse them during clashes, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Saturday, March 18, 2023. AP
For hours on Saturday, Khan's followers clashed with police outside a court where the former prime minister was to appear in a graft case. Riot police wielded batons and fired tear gas while Khan's supporters threw fire bombs and hurled rocks at the officers.
More than 50 officers were injured and a police checkpoint, several cars and motorcycles were torched. Police said 59 of Khan's supporters were arrested during the violence.
Khan never actually appeared inside the court to face charges that he had sold state gifts received while in office and concealed assets.
Besides Khan, the case filed Sunday also accuses former and current lawmakers, former ministers, a former National Assembly speaker and scores of Khan's supporters. The charges include terrorism, obstructing police officers in carrying out their tasks, attacks on police, wounding officers and threatening their lives.
The developments are the latest involving increasing violence surrounding the 70-year-old Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament last April. Since then, the former cricket star turned politician has claimed — without offering evidence — that his ouster was illegal and a conspiracy by the government of his successor, Shahbaz Sharif, and Washington. Both Sharif and the United States have denied the allegations.
Also on Saturday, violence erupted again outside Khan's home in the eastern city of Lahore, where officers and Khan's supporters had clashed for two straight days in a standoff earlier last week, after police arrived in the upscale neighborhood to arrest Khan.
Amid tear gas and clashes, police stormed Khan’s residence, and later said they arrested 61 suspects and seized petrol bombs, weapons and ammunition. Khan was not at home, having traveled to Islamabad for the court appearance. After he failed to appear in court, the judge postponed that hearing until March 30.
In a recorded video message broadcast Sunday, Khan blamed police for his failure to appear in court on Saturday, saying he never left his vehicle as the police were lobbing tear gas at his convoy and supporters.
Without offering anything to back his claim, Khan said his opponents are bent on either putting him in jail or killing him, and denounced the raid on his home in Lahore as “shameful tactics, conspiracies and plans.”
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah accused Khan of “creating all the drama just to avoid” the courts.