Pakistani police used water cannons and fired tear gas to disperse supporters of the country’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan Wednesday in the eastern city of Lahore. Two dozen Khan supporters were arrested for defying a government ban on holding rallies, police said.
The developments followed Khan’s launching of provincial election campaigns Tuesday for eastern Punjab and northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province provinces, where the ex-premier’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has held a majority in past rounds of voting.
Khan, now opposition leader, was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament last April. He has claimed his removal was illegal and has also campaigned for early parlimentary elections. The government of his successor, Shahbaz Sharif, has dismissed Khan’s demands, saying the nationwide vote will take place as scheduled later in the year.
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A senior leader from Khan’s party, Hammad Azhar, said police detained scores of their supporters ahead of the planned rally, which was to start in Lahore’s upscale Zaman Park area where Khan lives.
Police also swung batons and briefly fired tear gas on the road leading to Khan’s house to disperse his supporters. TV footage showed at least one large truck spraying water, scattering protesters.
Khan, who was in his home at the time, condemned the use of “massive police violence against unarmed” people.
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Fawad Chaudhry, another senior leader from Khan’s party, tweeted that the ban on protests was “the new weapon of the fascist government” of Sharif and its “imperialist forces.”
“The people of Pakistan have always fought for their rights,” Chaudhry added.
The 70-year-old former cricket star is embroiled in a string of court cases, including terrorism charges raised by the police in various parts of the country. He has so far avoided arrest and claims the legal imbroglio has been orchestrated by the government in an attempt to silence him.
On Tuesday, he accused the government of being behind the 76 legal cases raised against him. Khan has also claimed, without providing evidence, that his removal was illegal and a conspiracy by Sharif and Washington. Both the United States and Pakistan’s government have denied those allegations.
Khan has been living in Lahore since November when he was shot in the leg by a gunman during a protest rally. Since then, he has only once traveled to Islamabad — last week — for court appearances in other cases against him.