Police have fired water cannon and tear gas to quell protests that erupted in several cities across Pakistan hours after former Prime Minister Imran Khan was arrested in connection with a corruption case.
Thousands of Khan’s supporters took to the streets on Tuesday in the capital Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and other cities to protest against his arrest.
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At least one worker for Khan’s party was killed in Quetta, Shireen Mazari, former minister and senior leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party told media.
In Islamabad, hundreds of PTI activists blocked the main Kashmir Highway, which suspended traffic on either side of the road.
Reporting from Islamabad, Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder said “a precarious situation” is developing following Khan’s arrest.
“As the reports of Imran Khan’s arrest went across the country, protesters [took] to the streets and arrests are being made,” Hyder said. “There is considerable anger as far as Imran Khan’s supporters are concerned and the situation is escalating by the hour.”
Hyder added that officials anticipated the protests and have warned the public against participating in them.
“The inspector general of Islamabad police has said that anybody coming out to protest should be arrested,” he said.
Local broadcaster Geo News reported that police have arrested over a dozen of PTI workers after the two sides clashed at several points in the city.
“We will block the entire country and protest until Khan is released,” Waseem Qayyum, a protester, told dpa news agency.
Scenes from outside GHQ in Rawalpindi where .@PTIofficial women supporters lead the protest, a lone woman shakes the gate of the GHQ_ unprecedented events for even Pakistan pic.twitter.com/Tcl61fO6Dr
— Munizae Jahangir (@MunizaeJahangir) May 9, 2023
In Lahore, the country’s second-largest city, protesters gathered outside the former prime minister’s Zaman Park residence and blocked the adjacent roads by burning tyres. Police used water cannon to disperse the protesters.
In the southern port city of Karachi, PTI supporters gathered outside the local party office located along the city’s busiest Shahrah-e-Faisal Road. Both tracks of the road near the PTI office were closed to traffic as heavy contingents of police cordoned off the area.
Police also hurled tear gas canisters to disperse the protesters when they tried to block the road.
A group of protesters pelted stones and burned tyres at Burns Road, the city’s famous food street, suspending traffic and forcing shopkeepers to pull their shutters downs.
In northwestern Landi Kotal town, which borders neighbouring Afghanistan, protesters blocked the Pak-Afghan highway at two points, Dawn News reported.
Khan’s arrest followed months of political crisis and came hours after the country’s powerful military rebuked the former international cricketer for alleging a senior officer had been involved in a plot to kill him.
“Imran Khan has been arrested in the Qadir Trust case,” the official Islamabad police Twitter account said, referring to a corruption case.
Video broadcast on local TV channels showed Khan – who has a pronounced limp since being shot during an assassination attempt last year – being manhandled by dozens of paramilitary rangers into an armoured car inside the Islamabad High Court premises.
It was not immediately clear where he was taken.
Anticipating his arrest, party officials later released a pre-recorded video by Khan in which he urged supporters to come out in support of “true freedom”.
“My Pakistanis, by the time these words reach you, I would have been detained under an illegitimate case,” he says in the video.
“One thing should become clear for all of you from this is that fundamental rights in Pakistan, the rights given to us by our constitution and democracy, have been buried.”
Pakistan is deeply mired in an economic and political crisis, with Khan pressuring the struggling coalition government for early elections.