By Mubasher Bukhari, LAHORE, Pakistan, March 16: A Pakistani high court ordered police on Thursday to postpone an operation to arrest Imran Khan for another day, defusing a surge in violence that saw supporters of the former prime minister fighting pitched battles with security forces.
Khan's aide Fawad Chaudhry said the Lahore high court had extended an order to halt the police operation until Friday. The state information minister, Amir Mir, confirmed the court order.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, dozens of Khan's supporters, armed with batons and sling-shots, barricaded his home to prevent security forces from arresting him for failing to show up in court over a case in which he is charged with illegally selling state gifts given to him while he was prime minister. Khan denies the charges.
The court-ordered attempt to arrest Khan, which began on Tuesday, triggered clashes between his supporters and security forces in his Lahore neighbourhood, raising fears about the political stability of nuclear-armed Pakistan as it faces an economic crisis.
The violence, in which protesters torched police vehicles, a water-cannon truck and scores of cars and motorcycles and hurled petrol bombs at security forces firing tear gas and rubber bullets, subsided after the high court halted the police operation on Wednesday.
A lower court in Islamabad had issued a warrant against former international cricketer Khan for defying orders to present himself in court over charges that he unlawfully sold state gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries when he was prime minister from 2018 to 2022.
Khan denies the charges. The National Election Commission had found him guilty and barred Khan from holding public office for one parliamentary term.
The legal proceedings against Khan began after he was ousted from office in a parliamentary vote early last year. Since then, he has been demanding a snap election and holding nationwide protest rallies, and was shot and wounded in one of these rallies. Current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has rejected Khan's demands, saying the election would be held as scheduled later this year.