Pakistan braced for turmoil as former PM Imran Khan due in court

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Pakistan was braced for further turmoil a day after former prime minister Imran Khan was arrested and dragged from court in Islamabad and his supporters clashed with police across the country.

The 70-year-old opposition leader was expected in court on Wednesday for a hearing to determine custody arrangements.

Mr Khan, who lost power last year but remains the country’s most popular opposition figure, is the seventh former prime minister to be arrested in Pakistan.

His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party called for demonstrators to remain peaceful hours after mobs, angered over the mid-trial arrest, set fire to the residence of a top army general in the eastern city of Lahore.

Riot police officers outside police headquarters
Riot officers stand guard outside police headquarters (Anjum Naveed/AP)

The arrest deepened the political turmoil and sparked violent demonstrations in which at least one person was killed in the southwestern city of Quetta, and dozens were wounded in various parts of the country.

Mr Khan’s supporters attacked the military’s headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi near the capital, Islamabad, but did not reach the main building housing the offices of the army chief General Asim Munir.

Other demonstrators tried to reach the prime minister’s residence in Lahore but were driven off by baton-wielding police, while others attacked vehicles carrying troops and hit armed soldiers with sticks.

Smoke erupts from a burning objects set on fire by angry supporters of Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan
Smoke erupts from burning objects set on fire by angry supporters of Imran Khan (Muhammad Sajjad/AP)

Mr Qureshi said the party was considering challenging the arrest in the supreme court.

“I urge our party members to please continue peaceful protests, but do not attack public property, and do not do it.”

Speaking on Wednesday morning, police said at least 2,000 protesters were still surrounding the fire-damaged residence of Lieutenant General Salman Fayyaz Ghani, chanting slogans including “Khan is our red line and you have crossed it”.

Plainclothes police officers beat a supporter of Pakistan’s former prime minister
Plainclothes police officers beat a supporter of Mr Khan’s (W K Yousufzai/AP)

Police deployed in force across the country, and placed shipping containers on a road leading to the sprawling police compound in Islamabad where Mr Khan is being held.

Mr Khan was due to appear before a judge in the same compound later on Wednesday, in a temporary court placed there for security reasons, according to a notice from the government.

Amid the violence on Tuesday, Pakistan’s telecommunication authority blocked social media, including Twitter.

A supporter of Mr Khan removes a tear gas shell fired by police to disperse them protesting against the arrest of their leader
A supporter of Mr Khan’s removes a tear gas shell fired by police to disperse people protesting against his arrest (K M Chaudary/AP)

Classes at some private schools were cancelled for Wednesday.

Human rights group Amnesty International said it was alarmed by reports of Pakistani authorities blocking access to mobile internet networks and social media. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube were suspended in the country for a second day.

The group has urged authorities to show restraint, saying clashes between law enforcement and Mr Khan’s supporters risked human rights violations.

Riot police officers move to take positions in the vicinity of police headquarters
Riot officers move to take up positions around police headquarters (Anjum Naveed/AP)

The US embassy in Islamabad cancelled all its Wednesday consular appointments following Mr Khan’s arrest and issued a nationwide alert, telling Americans to review their personal security plans and avoid large crowds.

The British High Commission warned of further disruption in the country.

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