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Pakistan ex-PM Khan remanded in custody after arrest prompts riots

By AFP - May 10,2023 - Last updated at May 10,2023

ISLAMABAD — Former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan was remanded in custody for eight days on Wednesday by an anti-graft court as violent nationwide protests over his arrest erupted for a second day.

Khan was arrested on Tuesday during a routine hearing in the capital Islamabad and whisked away to an unknown location overnight before appearing behind closed doors in a specially convened court at police headquarters.

The drama follows months of political crisis during which Khan, who was ousted in April last year, has waged an unprecedented campaign against the country's powerful military.

"If they think that the arrest of Imran Khan will demoralise us, then they are hugely mistaken," said Niaz Ali in Peshawar, where several monuments and government buildings have been torched.

"We stand with Imran Khan and will support him till death."

Ali Bukhari, a lawyer for Khan, told AFP by phone that the court had approved eight days of physical remand of Khan demanded by the country's top graft agency.

Afzal Marwat, another of Khan’s lawyers, earlier said Khan was in “good spirits” but had complained of being hit on the back of the head and leg by paramilitary forces who arrested him.

The former cricketing superstar, who remains wildly popular, has previously said the dozens of cases brought against him are part of an effort by the struggling government and military establishment to prevent him from returning to power.

His arrest has brought thousands of his supporters to the streets in cities across the country, where police have attempted to quell crowds with tear gas.

At least six people have died in protest-related incidents, police and hospitals reported, including one person who died from smoke inhalation after a multistorey building was set on fire in Lahore.

Confrontation with military 

 

Khan’s arrest came hours after the military rebuked him for alleging that a senior officer had been involved in a plot to kill him.

Pakistan politicians have frequently been arrested and jailed since the country’s founding in 1947, but few have so directly challenged a military that has staged at least three coups and ruled for more than three decades.

Criticism of the military establishment is rare in Pakistan, where army chiefs hold significant influence over domestic politics and foreign policy, and have long been accused of interfering in the rise and fall of governments.

“The senior army leadership is uninterested in repairing the rift between itself and Khan,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Centre.

“So with this arrest it’s likely sending a message that the gloves are very much off.”

 

Internet cut, exams cancelled 

 

The interior ministry had ordered mobile internet services cut and restricted access to social media sites Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, the country’s communications agency said.

Authorities have ordered schools closed across the nation — with end of year exams cancelled for students.

Hundreds of police officers have been injured across the country, while in Pakistan’s most populous province of Punjab nearly 1,000 people have been arrested and the army ordered to deploy to keep peace.

“At a time when we are already struggling to feed our children, further uncertainty has been created,” Farooq Bhatti, a van driver, told AFP in Rawalpindi.

Some protesters took out their wrath on the military, torching the residence of the corps commander in Lahore and gathering outside the entrance to the army’s general headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi and pelting it with stones.

On Wednesday, the military’s media wing released a statement warning of a “strong reaction” against those who attack military and state installations”.

 

Overlapping crises 

 

Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar told a press conference there was “no political vendetta” surrounding Khan’s arrest.

The case that led to his detention was brought by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Pakistan’s top anti-corruption body, which said he had ignored repeated summons to appear in court.

“Whenever he was summoned to court, he would do so at his own leisure, and only after being given a final warning,” said Tarar.

Pakistan is deeply mired in an economic and political crisis, with Khan agitating for early elections while the government is weighed down by security and economic turbulence.

He has been increasingly outspoken against the establishment, relying on near-fanatical support from the huge crowds that accompany his public appearances to protect him from arrest.

At a weekend rally in Lahore, Khan repeated claims that senior intelligence officer Maj. Gen. Faisal Naseer was involved in an assassination attempt last year during which he was shot in the leg.

The military’s Inter-Services Public Relations wing in a statement rejected “this fabricated and malicious allegation”.

The government says the assassination attempt was the work of a lone gunman, who is in custody and who confessed in a video controversially leaked to media.

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