Pakistan: Protests in several cities after Imran Khan's call as PTI workers clash with police
Khan in a video message asked his supporters to "come out" to fight for real freedom and continue the struggle even if he is killed or arrested
Supporters of former Pakistan premier Imran Khan on Tuesday clashed with the police outside his residence at Lahore to foil his arrest on corruption charges, wounding several policemen and workers of his party and sparking protests in several cities across the country.
Khan in a video message asked his supporters to "come out" to fight for real freedom and continue the struggle even if he is killed or arrested.
Khan's video message was released by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) on social media as police arrived at his Zaman Park residence to arrest him in the Toshakhana case.
Despite an over eight-hour-long police operation outside the Zaman Park Lahore residence of Imran Khan the police could not arrest him due to strong resistance from PTI workers.
Scores of PTI workers and policemen suffered injuries in the violent clashes. So far, no casualty has been reported. Police have arrested a number of PTI workers. The PTI workers in huge numbers are braving massive shelling. Zaman Park turned out to be a battleground. Lahore Police chief Bilal Saddique Kamayan said that Lahore police are assisting the Islamabad police in the arrest of Khan.
“We will make sure that the court’s arrest warrants are executed,” he said. Three police vans were present outside Khan’s residence. Police fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse Khan's supporters, who reportedly hurled stones at policemen, resulting in injuries.
In the video message, 70-year-old Khan said: "They (the government) think that after my arrest, the nation will fall asleep. You have to prove them wrong," 70-year-old Khan said in the video.
"God has given me everything, and I am fighting this battle for you. I have been fighting this battle all my life, and I will continue to do so," he said.
"If something happens to me and I am sent to jail or if I am killed, you have to prove that you will struggle without Imran Khan and not accept the slavery of these thieves and of the one person who has been making decisions for the country," he said.
Soon after his speech, protests broke out in Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi, Faisalabad, Sargodha, Vehari, Peshawar, Quetta, and Mianwali.
Protesters blocked several roads in different cities of Punjab. In Lahore, PTI workers blocked several roads to protest the police action. PTI workers have staged a sit-in there and demanded the end of police action against Khan.
A senior police officer of Islamabad police said that his team has come to Lahore to arrest the PTI chief in the Toshakhana case.
Khan has been in the crosshairs for buying gifts, including an expensive Graff wristwatch he had received as the premier at a discounted price from the state depository called Toshakhana and selling them for profit.
TV footage showed police slowly approaching the Zaman Park residence of Khan behind an armoured vehicle that was dispersing his supporters with a water cannon.
Khan's supporters, who had covered their faces with pieces of cloth, pelted stones at policemen.
The Islamabad police said that five of its officials, including Deputy Inspector General (Operations) Shahzad Bukhari, who was leading the police team, had been injured after stones were pelted from the roof of Zaman Park.
"Despite the pelting of stones, police refrained from taking extreme measures,” Islamabad police said on Twitter.
PTI leader Shireen Mazari shared a video in which tear gas could be seen entering Khan's residence.
"They’re shelling Imran Khan’s house too, a leader who requested everyone to stay peaceful and patient. Democracy seems to be suspended in the country, no?" the official Twitter handle of the party tweeted.
Intermittent tear gas shelling is ongoing at Zaman Park as police are currently camped out at a security barrier outside the neighbourhood, Dawn newspaper reported. Khan's supporters, however, have laid siege to the path leading to his residence.
PTI's deputy leader Shah Mahmood Qureshi earlier said that the party leadership is ready to find out a "possible way out" to avert bloodshed.
"Show me the warrant. I will first read and understand it. Then, I will speak to Imran Khan and my lawyers," he told the police.
Khan's party moved the Islamabad High Court against the arrest warrants issued in the Toshakhana case.
Islamabad High Court Chief Justice Aamer Farooq fixed the hearing for Wednesday while rejecting the party's request to conduct the hearing today.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, however, said that officials would arrest Khan in accordance with the court’s directives and produce him in court.
President Arif Alvi has said that he was "deeply saddened" by Tuesday's events. "Unhealthy revenge politics. Poor priorities of [a] government of a country that should focus on economic misery of the people,” he said.
"Are we destroying the political landscape? Am concerned about safety and dignity of @ImranKhanPTI like that of all politicians," he said.
The PTI has given a call on social media asking its workers to reach Zaman Park. Clashes between police and PTI workers also broke out at the points where the police placed barricades. The PTI has declared that it would not let law enforcement agencies arrest Khan as it fears he may be given poison in jail.
PTI senior leader Fawad Chaudhry told the media that Khan would not surrender to the police of Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah “because giving Mr Khan into the custody of criminal Rana Sanaullah amounts to endangering his (Khan) life.” Rana Sanaullah on the other hand insisted that police operation will continue till the arrest of Khan.
"Police will arrest Imran Khan at any cost today," he declared.
Earlier in the day, a large number of PTI workers equipped with clubs and sticks assembled outside Khan's residence to resist the police action.
The police blocked all roads leading to the house of the PTI chairman by placing containers and riot personnel took positions to launch the operation.
Senior PTI leader Farukh Habib told reporters that come what may Khan would not surrender to police in fake cases.
One activist of Khan’s party was killed on Wednesday during a crackdown on his supporters who gathered outside his residence in Lahore, defying a government ban on rallies in the city.
On Monday, the Lahore police booked Khan in a case related to the killing of the PTI worker - Ali Bilal alias Zille Shah - in a road accident.
Earlier, the Lahore police had registered an FIR against Khan and 400 others for the murder of Shah.
This is the 81st FIR against Khan since the PML-N-led federal coalition came into power 11 months ago after toppling his government through a no-confidence motion.
Khan Monday led a march of thousands of his supporters, a day after he called off his party's election rally following a ban on public gatherings in Punjab's provincial capital. The former cricketer-turned-politician's supporters threw rose petals at a convoy carrying him to the Data Darbar shrine.
Khan was ousted from power in April last year after losing a no-confidence vote, which he alleged was part of a US-led conspiracy targeting him because of his independent foreign policy decisions on Russia, China and Afghanistan.
Since his ouster, Khan has been clamouring for immediate elections to oust what he termed an "imported government" led by prime minister Shehbaz Sharif.
Sharif has maintained that elections will be held later this year once the parliament completes its five-year tenure.
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