Pakistan court declines to suspend ex-prime minister Khan arrest warrant

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistan court declined Thursday to cancel an arrest warrant for former prime minister Imran Khan, one of his lawyers said, as hundreds of his supporters held a vigil at his home and vowed to stop police from detaining him.

Attempts by police this week to arrest the 70-year-old led to pitched battles with his supporters outside his home in the eastern city of Lahore before a court ordered authorities to stand down Wednesday.

Khan was ousted from office by a no-confidence vote last year and has been snarled in dozens of legal cases as he campaigns for early elections and a return to office. “The court has dismissed our petition to suspend the non-bailable arrest warrant, which means that Khan can be arrested,” lawyer Sher Afzal Marwat told AFP.

It was not immediately clear, however, if police would move against Khan, whose lawyers gave an undertaking to the Islamabad court that he would appear on Saturday. However, Shibli Faraz, a senior party leader, said he would need “foolproof security” to appear.

This particular case, brought by the Election Commission of Pakistan, centres on accusations Khan did not declare gifts received during his time as premier, or the profit made from selling them. He denies the allegations.

Overnight Tuesday police and paramilitary rangers fought pitched battles with Khan’s supporters in the plush Zaman Park neighbourhood of Lahore, firing fusillades of teargas and dodging rocks thrown by angry crowds.

“We never faced such a situation at any place in the past,” Islamabad police Inspector General Akbar Nasir told the court Thursday, opposing the cancellation of the arrest warrant. He said 65 officers were injured in the fracas.

Vigil outside Khan’s house

On Thursday several hundred supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party kept a vigil outside his home, wary of police returning to arrest him. Some were armed with sticks, clubs and slingshots, or wearing helmets and goggles to protect against rubber bullets and teargas.

A few hundred metres away, groups of police relaxed near shipping containers brought in to block roads. Khan says he fears for his life if detained, and that authorities want him jailed to prevent him from contesting an election that must be held by October this year.

“It’s the law of the jungle,” he told AFP Wednesday. As the political drama unfolds, 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, linked to the Pakistan Taleban.

Khan has been pressuring the coalition government that replaced him, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, with popular rallies and daily addresses broadcast on social media. Last year the former international cricket star was shot in the leg during a political rally, an assassination bid he blamed on Sharif. – AFP

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