ISLAMABAD (Net): Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan was arrested on Tuesday as he ap-peared in court to face charges in multiple graft cases, a dramatic escalation of political tensions in the country that sparked demonstrations by his supporters in at least three cities.
Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in April 2022 but remains the leading opposition figure, was dragged from the Islamabad High Court by security agents from the National Accountability Bu-reau, said Fawad Chaudhry, a senior official with his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. Khan was shoved into an armored car and whisked away.
Chaudhry denounced the arrest of the 71-year-old former cricket star as “an abduction.” Pakistan’s inde-pendent GEO TV broadcast video of Khan being hauled away.
Afterward, a scuffle broke out between Khan’s supporters and police outside the court. Some of Khan’s lawyers and supporters were injured in the melee, as were several police, Chaudhry said. Khan’s party complained to the court, which requested a police report explaining the charges for Khan’s arrest.
Khan was taken to the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, for questioning at the offices of the National Accountability Bureau, according to police and government officials. He also was to undergo a routine medical checkup, police said.
Khan had arrived at the Islamabad High Court from nearby Lahore, where he lives, to face charges in the graft cases.
He has denounced the cases against him, which include terrorism charges, as a politically motivated plot by his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, saying his ouster was illegal and a Western conspiracy. Khan has campaigned against Sharif and demanded early elections.
Tuesday’s arrest was based on a a new warrant from the National Accountability Bureau obtained last week in a separate graft case for which Khan had not obtained bail, making him vulnerable to arrest. He is scheduled to appear before an anti-graft tribunal on Wednesday, officials said.
“Imran Khan has been arrested because he was being sought in a graft case,” Interior Minister Rana Sa-naullah Khan told a news conference. He alleged Pakistan’s treasury had lost millions of dollars while Khan was in office due to illegal purchases of lands from a business tycoon.
As the news of the arrest spread, about 4,000 of Khan’s supporters stormed the official residence of the top regional commander in Lahore, smashing windows and doors, damaging furniture and staging a sit-in as troops there retreated to avoid violence. The protesters also burned police vehicles and blocked key roads..
Protesters also smashed the main gate of the army’s headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, where troops exercised restraint. Hundreds of demonstrators shouted pro-Khan slogans as they moved toward the sprawling building.
In the port city of Karachi, police swung batons and fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of Khan support-ers who had gathered on a key road.
Raoof Hasan, another leader from Khan’s party, told Al Jazeera English television that the arrest is “bla-tant interference in the judicial affairs by the powers-that-be.” Hasan added that Khan “was virtually abducted from the court of law.”
Khan’s arrest came hours after he issued a video message before heading to Islamabad, saying he was “mentally prepared” for arrest there.
Khan was wounded by a gunman at a rally in November, an attack that killed one of his supporters and wounded 13. He has insisted, without offering any evidence, that there is a plot to assassinate him, alleg-ing that Pakistan’s spy agency was behind the conspiracy. The gunman was immediately arrested and police later released a video of him in custody, allegedly saying he had acted alone.
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Khan came to power in 2018 after winning parliamentary elections and had initially good relations with the military which gradually soured.