ISLAMABAD, March 18 (Reuters) – Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan was due to appear in court on Saturday after he expressed fear of arrest in a standoff with the government that has led to intense clashes with his supporters.
Police entered Khan’s home in Lahore city after he left for his trial in the capital Islamabad.
Khan, in office from 2018 to 2022, faces a spate of legal challenges, including one that led to a failed attempt to arrest him on Tuesday.
He was due to appear in court on Saturday for illegally selling state gifts that foreign dignitaries had given him while in office.
Khan says he followed legal procedures in obtaining the gifts.
Khan, 70, reached the capital on Saturday afternoon and was on his way to court in a motorcade surrounded by supporters.
Islamabad’s police chief told local broadcaster Geo News that supporters of Khan attacked police near the court and fired tear gas grenades, prompting police to return more tear gas.
Khan has led nationwide protests since his ouster last year and a spate of cases have been registered against him.
Punjab province police chief Usman Anwar told a media conference in Lahore that officers went to Khan’s house on Saturday to intercept people involved in previous clashes with police and arrested 61 people, including for throwing petrol bombs.
Earlier this week, police and Khan’s supporters clashed outside his home during the arrest attempt.
Hours before leaving home, the former cricketer told Reuters he has formed a committee to run his party, Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), if he is arrested.
Khan, who was shot and wounded during his campaign in November, said in the interview that the threat to his life is greater than before and claimed – without providing evidence – that his political opponents and the army want to prevent him from taking part in elections later this year .
The military and government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government has denied being behind the cases against Khan. The military – which plays an outsized role in Pakistan and has ruled the country for nearly half of its 75-year history – has said it remains neutral on politics.
GOVERNMENT ‘INTENDED TO ARREST ME’
The court has previously issued arrest warrants for Khan in the case, as he failed to appear at previous hearings despite summonses.
On his assurance that he would appear on Saturday, the court granted Khan protection from arrest, but he said he feared the police and government were planning to take him into custody.
“It is now clear that despite having been granted bail in all my cases, the (Pakistani Democratic Movement Coalition) government intends to arrest me. Despite knowing their mala fide intentions, I am going to Islamabad and the court because I believe in the rule of law,” Khan said on Twitter.
“It is now also clear that the whole siege of Lahore was not to ensure that I would appear in court in any case, but was to take me to prison so that I cannot run our election campaign.”
Pakistan’s Information Minister said this week that the government had nothing to do with the police’s actions and that the police were following court orders.
The case to be heard on Saturday relates to allegations that Khan sold luxury watches and other items to the state during his tenure as prime minister.
COLLISION OUTSIDE LAHORE HOME
During Tuesday’s arrest attempt, hundreds of supporters prevented police from entering the grounds. Authorities said they were attacked by petrol bombs, iron bars and slingshots on Tuesday.
Many supporters stayed behind to guard Khan’s home as he left for Islamabad on Saturday.
Punjab province’s Information Minister Amir Mir told Reuters that police had arrived outside Khan’s house again on Saturday to gather evidence of attacks on police and wanted people in several cases.
“When the police arrived, the PTI activists tried to stop them by pelting stones and attacking with batons. In retaliation, the police arrested many of them. The police had already informed the PTI leadership about the process before the collecting evidence,” Mir said.
Khan’s party shared footage with journalists that appeared to show police beating supporters with batons in the garden of the Lahore home.
Khan said his wife was alone in the house during the raid.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told Geo News that police found weapons in the property outside Khan’s house. Sanaullah said law enforcement personnel did not enter the residence and remained in the yard and driveway.
He said police had a search warrant to conduct the search.
Reporting by Akhtar Soomro in Islamabad, Ariba Shahid in Karachi and Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore Edited by William Mallard and Frances Kerry
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