LAHORE, Pakistan — Pakistani police clashed with supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday when officers arrived outside his home to arrest him for failing to appear in court on graft charges, police and officials said.
The police operation sparked clashes between Khan’s supporters and police in the country’s major cities.
Police in the eastern city of Lahore plan to serve Khan with a warrant to appear in court later this week. They fired tear gas at the house as supporters of the 71-year-old opposition leader threw stones and bricks at the officers.
After a 10-hour standoff, police were no closer to arresting Khan and officers returned at midnight as the number of Khan’s supporters swelled.
About a dozen policemen and about 35 of Khan’s supporters were reportedly injured. Tear gas shells and pieces of brick littered the pavement as Khan’s followers fought back with batons they had brought to fight the police.
Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament in April, was ordered to appear before a judge in Islamabad on Friday to answer charges of illegally selling state gifts he received during his term as premier and concealing of his possessions.
The former premier has avoided court appearances since November when he was injured in a gun attack at a protest rally in the eastern province of Punjab, saying he was medically unfit to travel from Lahore to Islamabad to face the indictment.
Last week, he went to Islamabad to appear in three courts, but he failed to appear in the fourth court to face the indictment in the graft case, which is a legal process for starting his trial.
Khan claimed that the series of charges against him, which included terrorism charges, was a ploy by the government of his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, to discredit the former cricket star turned Islamist politician.
On Tuesday, Sharif told Pakistan’s Geo television that Khan’s arrest was ordered by the court, and was not a political victimization.
“We will arrest him, and do it on the order of the court,” Shahzad Bukhari, deputy-inspector general of the Islamabad police, told reporters earlier in Lahore. Bukhari was also later slightly injured in the violence and received first aid from police medics at the scene.
However, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a top leader from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, said the government was trying to disrupt law and order by sending police to Khan’s house.
“We are ready to find a middle way by talking to the police, but we must know what the purpose of the police raid is today,” he said. “Don’t make the situation worse. Let us sit and discuss what you want,” Qureshi asked the police. He said Khan might consider voluntarily offering to arrest him, “but let’s talk first.”
Fawad Chaudhry, another senior party leader, said Khan’s legal team was in the process of submitting a request to the Islamabad High Court to suspend the warrants against Khan. Khan’s lawyers are also legally challenging the warrants before another court in Islamabad on Tuesday.
From inside his home, Khan urged his followers to fight even after he was arrested in a message on Twitter. “They think this country will sleep when Imran Khan is jailed,” he said. “You have to prove them wrong.”
Police said reinforcements were on their way to Khan’s house to bring the situation under control.
TV footage showed tear gas shells falling inside Khan’s house.
Angered by Khan’s expected arrest, his supporters took to the streets across Pakistan, blocking several major roads near Islamabad while demanding the government halt Khan’s arrest.
“We will arrest this person on the order of the court and he fled to avoid arrest,” said Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan, who is not related to the former premier. He said Khan would be produced in court.
Earlier on Tuesday, Sharif’s government made changes approved by the Cabinet to clarify laws that prohibit officials from keeping valuable state gifts received while in office. The ban makes it clear that no official — including the country’s prime minister, figurehead president and Cabinet ministers — can keep a gift worth more than $300.
The ban says that any recipient must deposit such a gift in the state repository, known as Toshakhana in the Urdu language, within one month of receiving it. The gifts are henceforth considered state property, it added.
Impoverished Pakistan is embroiled in a worsening economic crisis and is trying to negotiate a much-needed bailout from the International Monetary Fund to avoid a default.
Until his ouster, Khan’s government blocked the release of any information about gifts officials received from visiting dignitaries. In the past, officials receiving a gift — regardless of its value — would symbolically return a small amount to the state treasury and keep the gift.
In a major U-turn, Sharif’s government on Monday released a list of gifts given to officials from previous administrations, listing the value of each item and the minor amounts paid by recipients since 2002.