• Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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Imran Khan arrest: Pakistan police arrest hundreds of PTI supporters

The government said supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had attacked important state buildings and damaged private and public vehicles

Supporters of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan block a highway, during a protest against his arrest, in Karachi, Pakistan May 9, 2023 (Photo: Reuters)

By: Pramod Thomas

Police in Pakistan on Wednesday (10) detained numerous followers of the deposed prime minister Imran Khan on charges of violence following his arrest on corruption allegations, deepening a political crisis in the nuclear-armed country.

The arrest of the former cricket star, who is also the country’s most popular politician based on opinion polls, occurred at a precarious moment for Pakistan. The country is grappling with a shortage of foreign exchange and the delayed arrival of an IMF bailout, adding to its economic challenges.

In an attempt to restore order after a violent incident that resulted in one fatality on Tuesday (9), security forces took measures such as shutting down mobile data services for a second consecutive day. Additionally, access to social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook was disrupted.

The government said supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party had attacked important state buildings and damaged private and public vehicles. Police said 945 of his supporters had been arrested in Punjab province after 25 police vehicles and more than 14 government buildings were set on fire.

“This can’t be tolerated, the law will take its course,” Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal told a news conference. “These violent attacks were not the outcome of any public outpouring, they were planned by the PTI rank and file.”

Authorities in three of Pakistan’s four provinces have imposed an emergency order banning all gatherings after Khan’s supporters clashed with police.

Khan, 70,was arrested from the Islamabad High Court by Pakistan’s anti-corruption agency. Police said a court hearing would take place at the police guest house where he was being held in the Islamabad police lines area.

PTI has called for supporters to gather in the capital and for a “shutdown” across the country of 220 million.

His arrest came a day after the powerful military rebuked him for repeatedly accusing a senior military officer of trying to engineer his assassination and the former armed forces chief of being behind his removal from power last year.

Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper said in an editorial that “the nature and locus of the protests that broke out following Mr Khan’s arrest yesterday signal that public anger is also directed at the military”.

Khan was due to appear for two hearings on Wednesday, Geo News reported, including for a corruption case related to property and another case that alleges Khan unlawfully sold state gifts during his 2018-22 tenure as premier. Khan has denied wrongdoing.

The Pakistani rupee fell 1.3 per cent to a record-low of 288.5 against the US dollar on Wednesday, while the 100-index of the Pakistan Stock Exchange dropped 0.7 per cent in early trading before recouping its losses.

An International Monetary Fund bailout package for Pakistan has been delayed for months even though its foreign exchange reserves are barely enough to cover a month’s imports.

PTI vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the party’s senior leadership was in Islamabad to meet Khan and would approach the Supreme Court to challenge an Islamabad High Court order that deemed Khan’s arrest legal.

“We continue to call PTI family workers, supporters and the people of Pakistan onto the streets for peaceful protest against this unconstitutional behaviour,” Qureshi wrote on Twitter.

The protests have disrupted business in several cities. In Peshawar, chicken seller Malagul Khan said his shop and others were destroyed in the clashes.

(Reuters)

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