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Arrest of ex-Pakistan leader Imran Khan hurls country into deadly political chaos

Pakistan court orders release of Imran Khan
Pakistan's top court orders release of former Prime Minister Imran Khan 05:29

Islamabad — Thousands of protesters were on the march across Pakistan Tuesday as the country was rocked by fresh political turmoil sparked by the dramatic arrest of the former Prime Minister Imran Khan. At least two deaths were reported amid chaos in every major city in the Asian nation.

Khan, 70, a former Pakistan cricket captain who now leads the main opposition political party, was detained on Tuesday morning on a series of corruption charges as he appeared at the high court in the capital, Islamabad.

Video of the arrest showed dozens of paramilitary troops in riot gear surrounding Khan and leading him into a black van by his arm. Lawyer Gohar Khan, who was there, later told journalists that Khan was beaten during the arrest. 

"They hit Imran's head and leg," he told the country's Dawn news outlet, further claiming that a wheelchair Khan had been using at the time was tossed aside and then confiscated during the arrest.

Khan, who leads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) political party, was arrested a day after Pakistan's powerful military issued a rare public rebuke of the former prime minister for levelling repeated accusations against a senior military official. Khan's claimed that the official has tried to have him assassinated, and that the military's former top commander was behind moves to prevent him from returning to power.

Pakistan's Interior Minister, Rana Sanaullah, told reporters that Khan was arrested on the orders of the country's main anticorruption body, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). He said Khan and his wife were suspected of receiving land worth around $24.7 million from a developer that had been charged with money laundering by British authorities.

Sanaullah said British authorities had returned $240 million to Pakistan in connection with money laundering over the case, and said Khan stood accused of then returning that money to the land developer instead of keeping it in the national treasury when he was the premier.

Khan has denied all wrongdoing.

The corruption case is one of more than 100 registered against Khan since he was ousted from power in a parliamentary vote in November 2022, after serving four years of his five-year term.

If convicted of the charges in most of the various cases against him, Khan faces being barred from holding public office. A national election is scheduled for November, and Khan, who remains hugely popular among many Pakistanis, is determined to run.

Following Khan's arrest, his party called on supporters to "shut down Pakistan."

In a message on Twitter, the party wrote: "It's your time, people of Pakistan. Khan has always stood for you, now it's time to stand for him." 

Videos posted on Twitter showed PTI protesters besieging military facilities, including army leaders' homes in Rawalpindi and Lahore. The main thoroughfare in Karachi, the country's biggest city, was blockaded and vehicles set alight.

Authorities issued orders banning protests in several cities, including the capital Islamabad and in Peshawar, the main city in the country's northwest Khyber-Pukthunwa province. In Islamabad, at least five police officers were seriously injured and 43 protesters arrested, officials said.

The PTI said two of its supporters were killed by law enforcement officers amid the chaos, one in Quetta and one in Lahore, and many videos posted by party members showed protesters being fired at in multiple cities.  

Khan's arrest and the call from his party for nationwide protests dealt a fresh blow to the nuclear-armed country as it struggles to cope with persistent political unrest and an economic crisis, with inflation at over 36% and an expected IMF bailout delayed by months already.

Industrial activity has virtually ground to a halt as the central bank has raised interest rates to a record 21% to battle the inflation, worsening already-high unemployment and poverty rates.

Women and children have been killed in stampedes at food distribution centers as food inflation rises to 40%, an all-time high.

The IMF bailout program for the nation of 220 million people, which expires in June, has been stalled since November. Foreign exchange reserves are running out fast, and the $4.5 billion left in the kitty will barely cover a month's worth of vital imports.

Before Khan became the prime minister in 2018, his biggest victory came in the 1992 Cricket World Cup, when he described his team as fighting like "cornered tigers" on their way to lifting the trophy and sending millions of Pakistanis into a rapturous frenzy. The country's military, and the coalition government now trying to run Pakistan, will be hoping that his latest escapade doesn't turn into a repeat of that fight.

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