Pakistani police storm Imran Khan’s home
LAHORE, Islamabad (AP) – Pakistani police stormed the residence of former Prime Minister Imran Khan in the eastern city of Lahore on Saturday, arresting 61 people amid tear gas and clashes between Khan’s supporters and police, officials said.
Senior police official Suhail Sukhera, who led the operation in an upscale neighborhood of Lahore, said police acted to remove a barricade set up by members of Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party and his defiant supporters. He said they blocked lanes around Khan’s residence with concrete blocks, felled trees, tents and a parked truck.
Khan was not at home after traveling to Islamabad to appear before a judge and face charges of selling state gifts and hiding his fortune during his tenure. The judge postponed that hearing until March 30.
Sukhera said that baton-wielding Khan supporters tried to resist police by throwing stones and Molotov cocktails and a man opened fire on the roof of Khan’s residence. At least three police officers were injured.
Sukhera said police broke down the main door of Khan’s residence and found automatic weapons, Molotov cocktails, iron bars and batons, which were used in attacks on police during the week. Sukhera said illegal structures had been erected at the sprawling residence to protect people involved in attacks on police that left dozens of officers injured.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah later said police would conduct a full search of Khan’s home, where they found bunkers and suspected more illegal weapons and ammunition were hidden. He said Khan and many of his supporters were armed in Islamabad.
Witnesses in Lahore said police tried to disperse Khan’s supporters by firing tear gas and chasing them to several homes in the Zaman Park neighborhood. Khan’s lawyer appeared in an Islamabad court on Saturday after a top court on Friday suspended Khan’s arrest warrant, giving him a reprieve to travel to Islamabad and face charges in the transplant case without being arrested .
Khan had been hiding at his home in Lahore since Tuesday after failing to show up at an earlier hearing in the case. His supporters threw stones and clashed with police officers wielding batons for two days to protect the former prime minister from arrest.
Khan’s motorcade arrived near the federal judiciary complex in Islamabad on Saturday, where his supporters also clashed with police who blocked them from entering the complex. The enraged Khan supporters threw stones at the police, who then threw tear gas canisters to disperse them.
Khan’s lawyer, Babar Awan, filed an application for exemption from Khan’s court appearance in special circumstances.
Justice Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar condemned Khan for failing to turn himself in to police and failing to appear in court on Saturday despite arriving at the gate of the judiciary complex. He accused Khan of using his protesting supporters to avoid indictment.
According to the justice minister, Khan’s supporters set fire to two police vehicles and several motorcycles outside the justice complex while he was dispersing.
Khan said in a video message during his road trip to Islamabad that police broke into his home in Lahore while his wife was home alone. He condemned the action and called for those responsible to be punished.
Khan’s PTI party secretary Asad Umar, in a letter to Pakistan’s chief justice, noted that police waited until Khan was on his way to Islamabad to storm his residence in Lahore. He said the “doors and walls had been leveled” and more than 40 people inside the house had been arrested.
Khan, now leader of the opposition, was ousted in a vote of no confidence in parliament last April. He is accused of selling state gifts and concealing assets during his tenure, which he denies. It’s one in a series of cases the former cricket star-turned-Islamist politician has faced since his ouster.
The 70-year-old Khan, who has called for early general elections, has claimed his ouster was part of a conspiracy by his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and the United States. Both Washington and Sharif’s government have denied the allegation.
Associated Press writer Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed.