Pakistani police were locked in a standoff with supporters of Imran Khan on Wednesday after a night of violent clashes outside the former prime minister’s home in the eastern city of Lahore as officers attempted to arrest the leader of the opposition for failing to appear in court for corruption.
Footage shared by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and local media showed police firing tear gas and water cannons at Khan’s supporters on Tuesday in a bid to disperse them. Supporters of the former prime minister threw stones back, injuring four police officers, according to a tweet from Islamabad police.
Demonstrations also erupted in major cities across Pakistan on Tuesday in support of Khan, who posted a video on social media asking his followers to “come out” in support of his movement if he is detained.
Khan, who was ousted in a parliamentary no-confidence vote last April, has since waged a grassroots campaign against the current government, accusing it of colluding with the military to depose him. He accused the Pakistani authorities of trying to arrest him to withdraw him from the upcoming by-elections in April and the general elections scheduled for October.
“[The government], they are petrified that if I come to power, I will hold them accountable,” Khan told CNN on Tuesday. “They also know that even if I go to jail, we’ll rock the election no matter what they do.”
The former leader says the charges against him are politically motivated and warned attempts to arrest him could lead to a dangerous escalation of political violence in the country. He also believes Pakistan’s ruling coalition could possibly use a “pretext of violence” to delay upcoming votes.
In a statement to CNN, Pakistan’s information minister denied any political involvement in the case.
“The government has nothing to do with the arrest (of Khan), and the arrest has nothing to do with the election. The police are just complying with court orders,” Marriyum Aurangzeb said.
“Instead of cooperating with law enforcement officials, Imran Khan is breaking the law, defying court orders and using his party members as human shields to evade arrest and stir up unrest,” he said. she added.
As clashes escalated on Tuesday, police cut power to Khan’s home and turned off streetlights in the wider Zaman Park neighborhood, according to Khan’s spokesman and other backers.
“We are ready to face all kinds of fascisms to protect Imran Khan,” Musarrat Cheema, former Punjab government spokesman, wrote on Twitter. “The whole nation supports President Imran Khan.”
Khan faces allegations of illegal buying and selling of gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries while in office, which he dismissed as “biased”.
On Monday, the Islamabad High Court issued an arrest warrant against Khan in the case to have him appear in court on March 18.
“By order of the court, the person who fled from the court will be arrested and arrested and taken there,” Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah tweeted on Tuesday.
But Khan’s lawyers argued that he had not previously appeared in court because he could not leave his residence in Lahore for security reasons. He can only make appearances via video link, according to his legal team.
The political upheaval comes at a time when the Pakistani government is awaiting a delayed bailout from the International Monetary Fund, which will help the country deal with the cost of living crisis and struggling economy.
Khan was only arrested once in 2007 by then-president and military leader Pervez Musharraf, who died earlier that year.
But he told CNN on Tuesday that he was “mentally ready to spend the night in a cell.”
“I want a proper arrest warrant and I want to see that, my lawyers want to see the warrant,” Khan said.
“It’s a matter of time. I’m convinced they’re going to come and arrest me, I’m prepared for that,” he said, adding, “I know what the intention is. They want to make me out of the race. They want me out of the game so they can win the election.