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Pakistani court halts ‘police operation’ against former premier

Pakistani court halts ‘police operation’ against former premier

- Relief for Imran Khan comes after police, Ranger operation to arrest him since Tuesday afternoon

By Kiran Butt and Aamir Latif

LAHORE / KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) - A Pakistani court on Wednesday ordered police to halt an operation to arrest former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

After hearing a petition filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader Fawad Chaudhry, a judge of the Lahore High Court ordered police not to arrest Khan until Thursday morning.

The petition was filed, pleading with the court to order the police to stop "atrocities" outside Zaman Park, Khan's residence in the northwest city of Lahore.

The relief for the former prime minister comes after a police and paramilitary Ranger operation to arrest Khan since Tuesday afternoon, which resulted in clashes between PTI workers and government forces.

Earlier, hundreds of riot police, backed by water cannons and armored personnel carriers, surrounded Khan's residence in a high-end Lahore neighborhood over the past 24 hours to arrest him on a court order.

They have, however, failed to execute an arrest warrant issued earlier this week by an Islamabad district court in a case related to the alleged illegal purchases and sale of gifts given by foreign dignitaries while he was in power, amid a tough resistance from his charged reporters.

Visuals aired on multiple local broadcasters showed stick-wielding activists from Khan's PakistanTehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party pelting police with stones. To hold them off, many of them used slingshots to target police, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.

Columns of smoke billowed upwards across a stone-strewn site as protesters cowered in nearby streets after police fired tear gas shells.

Following pitched battles with protesters, police and paramilitary Rangers have taken control of the entrance of Khan's residence, local broadcaster Geo News reported.

Over 60 policemen and eight civilians, according to Lahore police, were taken to the two government hospitals on Tuesday.

The PTI, on the other hand, claimed that dozens of its workers have been injured and arrested by police.

The government has already declared an "emergency" situation for the Lahore hospitals, following the possibility of further clashes.

A joint team of capital Islamabad and Lahore police arrived at Khan's residence a day following a district court restored an arrest warrant on Monday after he failed to appear before the judge despite instructions from the Islamabad High Court in the foreign gifts case.

Originally, the warrant was issued in February, but the Islamabad High Court suspended it last week and ordered the former prime minister to appear in court on March 13.

However, the cricketer-turned-politician instead preferred to lead an election rally in Lahore on Monday.


- 'Clear intention to assassinate me'

Khan, who has repeatedly skipped court hearings, has accused the government of plotting to "abduct and assassinate" him under the guise of the ongoing security operation at his residence.

"Clearly arrest claim was mere drama because the real intent is to abduct & assassinate. From tear gas and water cannons, they have now resorted to live firing,” he said in a Twitter post on Wednesday, containing an image of spent bullet cases, which, he claimed, were fired by police.

"I signed a surety bond last evening, but the DIG (deputy inspector general of police) refused to even entertain it. There is no doubt of their mala fide intent,” he alleged.

The inspector general of the northeastern Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital, told reporters that the police surrounding Khan's residence are only equipped with shields, helmets, and sticks in order to avoid casualties.

"I call upon the youths not to become a hurdle in the way of law. Otherwise, the law will take its way," he warned the protesters.

Khan, the country's only premier to be deposed by a no-confidence vote in the country's 75-year political history, is facing a slew of charges ranging from terrorism to attempted murder and money laundering.

Most of the cases, which Khan dubs a "sham," were lodged after his ouster.

Khan, 70, blames his unceremonious ouster on a US-backed conspiracy, the allegation that the incumbent coalition government in Islamabad and Washington have repeatedly refuted.

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