Imran Khan in court after arrest prompts riots

ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan appeared in a special court at the capital's police headquarters Wednesday to answer graft charges, local media reported, a day after his arrest prompted violent nationwide protests.

Some local media, citing unnamed sources, said prosecutors had asked for Khan to be remanded in custody for 14 days.

Geo TV said Khan was allowed to consult with his lawyers during the hearing, but court officials were not available to confirm details of proceedings, held behind closed doors.

Khan's detention Tuesday follows months of political crisis and came hours after the powerful military rebuked the former international cricketer for alleging that a senior officer had been involved in a plot to kill him.

Pakistan politicians have frequently been arrested and jailed since the country's founding in 1947, but few have so directly challenged a military that has staged at least three coups and had ruled for more than three decades.

Some protesters took out their wrath on the military, torching the residence of the corps commander in Lahore and laying siege at the entrance to the army's general headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

“At a time we are already struggling to feed our children, further uncertainty has been created,” Farooq Bhatti, a van driver, told AFP in Rawalpindi Wednesday morning.

“The violence will not serve anyone... everyone will be affected... but I doubt the decision makers care.”Authorities also ordered schools closed across the country and continued restricting access to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Police fought pitched battles with supporters of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party in cities across the country for hours on Tuesday night.

Local media reported two deaths in those clashes, while police said 945 “law breakers and miscreants” had been arrested in Punjab alone, the country's most populous province.

Protesters blocked some routes leading to Islamabad around lunchtime Wednesday but there was a huge security presence across the capital, particularly outside the so-called police lines where the special court convened.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, vice chairman of the PTI, urged supporters to keep protesting in a “lawful and peaceful manner”, adding party lawyers would file appeals and petitions against Khan's arrest.

Military rebuke

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar told a press conference there was “no political vendetta” surrounding Khan's arrest.

The case that led to his detention was brought by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Pakistan's top anti-corruption body, which said he had ignored repeated summons to appear in court.

“Whenever he was summoned to court, he would do so at his own leisure -- and only after being given a final warning,” said Tarar.

Khan has faced dozens of charges since being ousted in April, a tactic analysts say successive Pakistan governments have used to silence their opponents.

He could be barred from holding public office if convicted, which would exclude him from elections scheduled for later this year.

Khan's arrest came a day after the military warned him against making “baseless allegations” after he again accused a senior officer of plotting to kill him.

The rebuke late Monday underscored how far Khan's relations have deteriorated with the military, which backed his rise to power in 2018 but withdrew its support ahead of a parliamentary vote of no confidence that ousted him last year.

“The senior army leadership is uninterested in repairing the rift between itself and Khan,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center.

“So with this arrest it's likely sending a message that the gloves are very much off.”The United States wants to “make sure that whatever happens in Pakistan is consistent with the rule of law, with the constitution,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday during a news conference with British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in Washington.

“We want to see peaceful democracy in that country,” Cleverly added.
Pakistan is deeply mired in an economic and political crisis, with Khan pressuring the struggling coalition government for early elections.

He has been increasingly outspoken against the establishment, relying on near-fanatical support from the huge crowds that accompany his public appearances to protect him from arrest.

But authorities pounced during what was supposed to be a routine court appearance Tuesday, with paramilitary rangers bundling him into an armoured car inside the Islamabad High Court premises.

At a weekend rally in Lahore, Khan repeated claims that senior intelligence officer Major-General Faisal Naseer was involved in an assassination attempt last year during which he was shot in the leg.

The military's Inter-Services Public Relations wing in a statement rejected “this fabricated and malicious allegation”.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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