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Pakistan police attempt to detain ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan

Supporters of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan gather around a police van outside his house in Lahore on March 5, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

Supporters of Imran Khan have protested outside his house in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore after police attempted to arrest the former prime minister.

In a series of tweets on Sunday, the police said Khan was “avoiding” arrest after officers arrived at his home in Lahore. A police superintendent had “gone to the room” but the 70-year-old was not there, police said.

"A team of Islamabad police has arrived in Lahore to arrest Imran Khan to comply with the court orders," Islamabad police said in one of the tweets. "Imran Khan is reluctant to surrender -- the Superintendent of Police had gone into the room but Imran Khan was not present there."

The arrest warrant was issued after Khan failed to appear in court in a corruption case on February 28. An Islamabad sessions court has issued a non-bailable warrant against Khan for avoiding hearings in connection with the illegal purchase and sale of gifts received from foreign dignitaries when he was in office. Khan has denied the charges.

Following the police attempt, Khan addressed workers from his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party at his Zaman Park home and said he is being summoned for “fake cases” and that his life was under threat. "I am being summoned in fake cases and the nation should know about them." 

“I have said this earlier, and I was proven right when I was attacked, that there is a threat to my life,” Khan, who was shot in the leg during a rally last year, told his supporters. “They keep summoning me to various courts in Lahore and Islamabad where they don’t provide security despite knowing about the danger that I face.”

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the vice chairman of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, earlier told reporters, "It will be a bad omen for the country if the nation does not stand against the corrupt rulers."

"We have received the notice from Islamabad police -- the notice does not contain any order for the arrest," he said. "We will consult our lawyers and follow the legal process." Qureshi said discussions with the party’s legal team will take place before deciding on any future course of action later on Sunday.

Critics say Pakistan's courts are often used to tie up lawmakers in long-winded proceedings rights monitors have criticized for stifling political opposition.

Khan has attempted to disrupt Pakistan politics since he was forced out of office in a no-confidence vote in April 2022. Since then, he has been facing dozens of cases against him. He has been pushing for early polls due no later than October by calling for protests, pulling out of parliament and dissolving the two provincial assemblies his party controls.

Pakistan is in dire economic straits with runaway inflation, scant foreign exchange reserves and stalling bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

To pull the nation of more than 220 million out of its spiral, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is battling to revive the next tranche of a $6.5-billion loan deal sketched with the IMF in 2019.

Khan was voted into power in 2018 on the promise of fighting corruption, but his mishandling of the economy did not help his case. Despite being ousted from power, Khan’s popularity has gone up.

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