Pakistani court delays arrest of ex-premier Imran Khan

Khan’s supporters have been preventing police from reaching his house in Lahore.

A Pakistani court has extended a pause in the effort to arrest former premier Imran Khan, a sign of easing tension in the country’s cultural capital after clashes erupted this week when police tried to detain him.

Lahore High Court ordered police to suspend the plan to arrest the 70-year-old opposition leader until Friday, and asked his legal team for talks to resolve the issue.

Thursday’s order sent a wave of relief through Khan’s stick-wielding supporters, who were prepared to prevent police from reaching his house in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province.

Despite the order, police and paramilitary rangers deployed for his arrest were not immediately withdrawn.

Usman Anwar, the police chief in Punjab province, said the violence in Lahore began on Tuesday when officers went to comply with the court order and arrest Khan. The former cricket star’s supporters started throwing stones at officers who were only carrying batons.

“We will comply with the court order, and we will do it,” the police chief told a local TV station.

In Islamabad, Khan’s legal team on Thursday asked judge Zafar Iqbal to suspend the arrest warrants he had issued last week over accusations that he had illegally sold state gifts and concealed his assets.

Judge Iqbal gave no indication of whether he will suspend the arrest warrants. Instead, he asked why Khan resisted when officers went to his house to arrest him. The judge said if Khan surrenders to the court now, he will stop police from arresting him.

Violence erupted in Lahore on Tuesday when about 1,000 supporters of Khan clashed with police when they tried to arrest the former premier at his house in the upscale area of Zaman Park.

Khan’s supporters hurled petrol bombs, rocks and bricks at police, who responded by swinging batons, firing tear gas and using water cannons. They failed to arrest Khan.

On Wednesday, Khan said in a video message that he was ready to travel to Islamabad on March 18 to appear before the court, if he is not arrested. He also posed for cameras seated at a long table, showing off piles of spent tear gas shells he said had been collected from around his home.

“What crime did I commit that my house has been attacked like this,” he tweeted the previous day.

Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament in April, was ordered to appear before a judge in Islamabad on Saturday to answer charges of illegally selling state gifts he had received during his term as premier and concealing his assets.

He was also disqualified from holding any public office in October.

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