Tension in Pakistan: the deadline for Imran Khan to hand over the suspects expired, and the police maintain the siege on his house

Pakistani security officers close a road near the home of former Prime Minister Imran Khan in Lahore (AP Photo/KM Chaudary) (KM Chaudary/)

Pakistani police maintained siege around the home of Imran Khan when the 24-hour deadline given to the former prime minister to hand over the suspected refugees inside expired on Thursday.

The siege and the authorities’ demand for the suspects, wanted in violent protests over Khan’s recent arrest, have angered many supporters of the former prime minister and increased the fear of new confrontations between them and the security forces.

Last week, Khan’s supporters attacked public property and military installations after they dragged him out of a courtroom and arrested him in a corruption case. At least 10 people died in clashes with police across the country in the days that followed. The violence subsided only when the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered Khan’s release.

On Tuesday, Khan demanded an investigation into the violence, but denied that his supporters were behind it. Khan accused Pakistan’s ruling party of trying to foment trouble between his supporters and the army, without offering any proof of his claim. He was speaking at a press conference held at his home, despite being surrounded by police.

The popular opposition leader was released from prison over the weekend and returned to his home in an upmarket district of Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city and the capital of the Punjab region. Dozens of his followers have stayed there with him., along with private guards. Police surrounded the residence Wednesday and said they want the 40 suspects.

The ultimatum for Khan ended at 2 p.m. local time, but there were no immediate signs of unusual movements by the police. Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, invited reporters to the house to witness any police raids.

Imran Khan (REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/File Photo)
Imran Khan (REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/File Photo) (AKHTAR SOOMRO/)

Hours after the expiration of the ultimatum, Hassan Javed, a senior police officer, told reporters that the officers were waiting for a government signal to launch the raid. He said police captured at least eight suspects after they left Khan’s house and tried to escape through a nearby canal.

Typically, 200 to 300 stick-wielding Khan supporters guard his residence 24 hours a day, but most disappeared overnight. Police have blocked a key path leading to the house and have asked residents to use an alternative route.

“Probably my last tweet before my next arrest,” the popular 70-year-old opposition leader tweeted on Wednesday, after the siege began. “The police have surrounded my house.”

Later, Khan addressed his supporters, saying that the police can only search his house with a search warrant and “not to break in and create chaos.”

According to Amir Mir, a spokesman for the Punjab provincial government, the police were ready to use Firearms in case of attack. He told a news conference Thursday that at least 3,400 suspects linked to the clashes have been arrested and more raids are planned.

Mir said authorities would send police to search Khan’s residence on Friday, in comments that appeared to put off the threat of overnight clashes with the leader’s supporters.

Pakistani authorities have said they will prosecute civilians involved in the recent anti-government protests in military courts. Angered by recent attacks on military installations, two lawmakers and some senior politicians have quit Khan’s party, saying that they cannot support the man who incited people to violence.

The police presence near the home of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in Lahore, Pakistan, on May 17, 2023 (AP Photo/KM Chaudary)
The police presence near the house of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in Lahore, Pakistan, on May 17, 2023 (AP Photo/KM Chaudary) (KM Chaudary/)

The plan to try civilians in a military court has drawn criticism from advocacy group Amnesty International and the Pakistan Human Rights Commission. Military trials in Pakistan are often held behind closed doors, which deprives civilians of some of their basic rights, including the right to hire a lawyer of their choice.

Khan was ousted by a vote of no confidence in Parliament last year. He has claimed that the ouster was illegal and a Western conspiracy.

Now faces more than 100 legal cases, mainly on charges of inciting people to violence, threatening officials and defying a ban on demonstrations. He has been summoned by the National Accountability Office to answer questions on Thursday in connection with a corruption case he is facing together with his wife.

But Khan told the agency he couldn’t attend because he was busy fighting for protection from arrest in many of the cases against him. In his written response to the agency, he said the investigation against him was politically motivated.

(With information from AP)

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