Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan Greeted supporters outside his Lahore residence on Wednesday after police were ordered to call off an operation to arrest him amid violent clashes around the compound.
Khan was filmed wearing a gas mask in one video as he spoke and posed for photos with those who had gathered in front of his property..
Police In Lahore, they were trying to arrest Khan for failing to appear in court on charges of corruption. Officers were ordered to suspend the operation by 10am local time on Thursday after clashes between police and supporters of the opposition leader continued for a second day.
Lahore’s Supreme Court intervened Wednesday over security concerns surrounding a high-profile cricket match in the city, with the judge citing the need to “keep the peace,” two Pakistani government officials familiar with the matter told CNN.
Police and paramilitary troops arrived at Khan’s residence on Tuesday afternoon, a day after the Islamabad High Court issued an arrest warrant to compel him to appear on Saturday. Khan’s supporters then camped outside his house, declaring they would not allow his arrest.
Khan has been accused of illegally selling gifts given to him by senior foreign officials during his tenure, which he has dismissed as “biased”.
The former prime minister, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-confidence vote last April, has since waged a grassroots campaign against the current government, accusing it of colluding with the military to oust him.
The doorstep of Khan’s home in the eastern city was a battleground earlier Wednesday as police swarmed the wider Zaman Park neighborhood.
Khan’s supporters hurled stones and projectiles at police, while people inside his residence lit fires after officers fired tear gas at the compound.
Police also used water cannons to try to disperse them, footage shared by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and local media showed.
Police later cut off power to Khan’s home and turned off street lights in the neighborhood, according to Khan’s spokesman and other supporters.
A Pakistani police official told CNN early Wednesday morning that a total of 69 people, including 34 policemen, were injured in the violence in Lahore. The official, on condition of anonymity, added that the people inside Khan’s residence were armed with weapons.
Amid the controversy, Khan signed an affidavit on Wednesday stating that he will appear before the Islamabad High Court on Saturday. However, the handwritten note does not indicate whether he will appear in person or send a representative.
Protests also took place in major Pakistani cities on Tuesday in support of Khan, who posted a video on social media asking his followers to “come out” to support his movement if he is arrested.
After being ordered to cease operations, a CNN anchor on the ground in Lahore said police were clearing the area outside Khan’s residence and retreating. Police confirmed to CNN that they were doing so on orders from the Lahore High Court.
Senior PTI leader Asad Umar said in a video message posted on Twitter that despite the order, police may still remain in nearby areas and instructed PTI members to remain near Khan’s residence.
The cricket legend-turned-politician has accused Pakistani authorities of trying to arrest him in order to sideline him from a by-election in April and a general election scheduled for October.
“[The government]They are petrified that if I come to power, I will hold them accountable,” Khan told CNN on Tuesday. “They also know that even if I go to jail, no matter what they do, we will swing the elections.”
The former leader says the charges against him are politically motivated and has warned that attempts to arrest him could lead to a dangerous escalation of political violence in the country. He also believes that Pakistan’s ruling coalition could eventually use the “pretext of violence” to delay the upcoming polls.
In a statement to CNN, Pakistan’s information minister denied any political involvement in the case.
“The government has nothing to do with (Khan’s) arrest, and the arrest has nothing to do with the elections. The police are only following the orders of the court,” Marium Aurangzeb said.
“Instead of cooperating with law enforcement officials, Imran Khan is breaking the law, defying court orders and using his party workers as human shields to evade arrest and incite unrest,” it added.
In an interview broadcast in the US on Tuesday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said Khan was arrested “because of his ego”.
Speaking to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” Zardari said Khan has repeatedly refused to appear in court and fight his case, often citing that he is “too important” to stand trial.
“What we have seen in the last few weeks has been a complete mockery of the Pakistani judiciary, the rule of law, the Pakistani constitution. imminent arrest,” said Zardari. “He repeatedly violated the court decision.”
Khan’s lawyers claim that he has not appeared in court before because he cannot leave his residence in Lahore for security reasons. He can only appear via video, according to his legal team.
The political upheaval comes as Pakistan’s government awaits a delayed bailout from the International Monetary Fund to help the country’s cost-of-living crisis and ailing economy.
Khan was arrested only once in 2007 by then president and military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who died earlier this year.
But he told CNN on Tuesday that he was “mentally ready to spend the night in a cell.”
“I want a proper arrest warrant and I want to see it, my lawyers want to see the warrant,” Khan said.
“It is a matter of time. I am sure that they will come and arrest me, I am ready for that,” he said, adding: “I know what the intention is. They want to take me out of the race. They want to remove me from the game in order to win the elections.”