Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan appears in court amid violent protests over his arrest

A supporter of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan removes a tear gas canister fired by police to disperse protesters against the arrest of their leader, in Lahore, Pakistan, Tuesday, May 9, 2023. (AP Photo/ KM Chaudary) (KM Chaudary/)

Pakistan was bracing for more riots a day after former Prime Minister Imran Khan was dragged out of court in Islamabad and his followers clashed with police across the country. The 70-year-old opposition leader appeared in court on Wednesday for a hearing asking a judge to approve keeping him in custody for up to 14 days.

Khan, who lost power last year but remains the country’s most popular opposition figure, is the seventh former prime minister arrested in Pakistan. His arrest deepened political turmoil and sparked violent demonstrations. on Tuesday. At least one person was killed in the southwestern city of Quetta, and dozens were injured in various parts of the country.

The judge is expected to rule on the request for a 14-day detention later on Wednesday, authorities said. Khan met his legal team earlier in the day at the court in the capital, Islamabad.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party asked protesters to remain peacefulhours after mobs angered by the dramatic arrest burned down the residence of a top army general in the eastern city of Lahore.

A man walks past a barricade at the entrance gate of the military headquarters to ensure security a day after supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan attacked, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed) (Anjum Naveed/)

Khan was appearing in court on multiple corruption charges brought by Islamabad police on Tuesday, when dozens of National Accountability Office officers backed by paramilitary troops stormed the courtroom and smashed the windows after Khan’s guards They refused to open the door.

Khan’s supporters attacked the army headquarters in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, near the capital Islamabad, but failed to reach the main building housing the offices of army chief Gen. Asim Munir.

Other protesters tried to reach the prime minister’s residence in lahore, but the police chased them away with batons. Others attacked troop-carrying vehicles and beat soldiers armed with sticks. So far, the police and soldiers have not fired on the protesters.

The army has not ruled on the attacks on its facilities.

Riot police officers move to take up positions in the vicinity of the police headquarters, where former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is being held, and will appear in a temporary court set up by the authorities for security reasons, in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed) (Anjum Naveed/)

A police statement on Wednesday said officers in the eastern Punjab province 945 Khan supporters arrested since Tuesday, including Asad Umar, a senior leader of Khan’s party. Dozens of Khan’s supporters were also detained in Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar and other places.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi, a senior vice president of Khan’s party, called for peaceful demonstrations on Wednesday and urged his supporters: “Do not damage public property, do not attack offices, as we are peace lovers”. He said the party is considering challenging Khan’s arrest in the Supreme Court.

On Wednesday morning, police said at least 2,000 protesters were still surrounding the fire-damaged Lahore residence of Lt. Gen. Salman Fayyaz Ghani, a senior regional commander. They chanted slogans in the army, including “Khan is our red line and you have crossed it”. Ghani and his family members were moved to a safer location when the mob first attacked their sprawling home on Tuesday.

Police have fanned out across the country, placing shipping containers on a road leading to the sprawling police compound in Islamabad where Khan is being held. Khan will appear before a judge at the same complex later today, in a temporary court located there for security reasons, according to a government notice.

Smoke billows from burning objects set on fire by angry supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as police fire tear gas to disperse them during a protest against Khan’s arrest, in Peshawar, Pakistan. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad) (Muhammad Sajjad/)

Babar Awan, Khan’s lawyer, said he is trying to reach the courtroom.

Amid violence, Pakistan Pakistan’s telecommunications authority on Tuesday blocked social media, including Twitter. He government also suspended internet service in the capital Islamabad and other cities. Classes at some private schools were canceled for Wednesday.

Human rights group Amnesty International said it was alarmed by reports that Pakistani authorities have blocked access to mobile internet and social media networks. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are suspended in the country for the second day. The group has urged authorities to show restraint, saying clashes between law enforcement and Khan’s supporters risk violating human rights.

The National Accountability Office has detained and investigated former officials, including former prime ministers, politicians and retired military personnel. But some see the NAB as a tool used by those in power, especially the military, to crack down on political opponents.

Plainclothes policemen beat a supporter of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as he is detained as he and others block a road in protest against their leader’s arrest. (AP Photo/WK Yousufzai) (WK Yousufzai/)

When Khan was in power, his government arrested Sharif, then the leader of the opposition, through the NAB. Sharif was facing multiple corruption cases when he succeeded in ousting Khan in a 2022 vote of no confidence. The charges were later dropped, citing lack of evidence.

The brother of the current prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who also served as prime minister, has been arrested multiple times on corruption charges.

In March, police stormed Khan’s Lahore residence, seeking to arrest him in a corruption case related to concealing proceeds from the sale of official gifts. Dozens of people, including police officers, were injured in the ensuing clashes. Khan was not arrested at the time and was later released on bail.

As the violence raged on Wednesday, diplomats from several countries and ordinary people in Pakistan stayed at home. The US embassy in Islamabad canceled all its Wednesday consular appointments after Khan’s arrest and issued a nationwide alert, telling Americans to review their personal security plans and avoid large crowds.

(with information from AP)

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