Pakistani police arrest scores more Imran Khan supporters

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani police on Monday arrested scores more supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan for attacking officers over the weekend outside an Islamabad court where the ousted premier was to appear on graft charges, officials said.

Meanwhile, a rocket hit a vehicle carrying Khan supporters in the country's northwest, killing 10 people.

The arrests were the latest amid legal cases facing Khan, now opposition leader, since his ouster in a no-confidence vote in Parliament last April. The standoff between the 70-year-old former cricket player turned Islamist politician, and the government of his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, has turned increasingly violent.

Monday's arrests bring the total number of Khan's followers detained in Islamabad to 198 since Saturday, when 59 were arrested in the Pakistani capital. Khan’s followers threw firebombs and hurled rocks at the officers as riot police wielded batons and fired tear gas. More than 50 officers were injured and at a police checkpoint, several cars and motorcycles were torched.

Also on Monday, police arrested Saddique Jan, a Pakistani TV anchor known for supporting Khan in Islamabad, his BOL TV station said. It was unclear on what charges police arrested Jan, who was nabbed from outside his office. His arrest drew condemnation from colleagues, politicians and human rights activists.

A rocket struck a vehicle carrying Khan supporters in the northwest on Monday, killing Atif Munsif, a local leader from Khan's party, and nine others, officials said. The attack happened in Abbottabad, a district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said Asghar Khan, a local police chief unrelated to the former prime minister. He said it was unclear who was behind the attack.

The police chief said the Khan supporters were apparently returning to Abbottabad from Islamabad.

Khan said Munsif's political rivals were behind previous gun attacks on elders from his family. He said police were investigating.

There was no immediate comment from Khan's opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which is currently preparing for an upcoming election for a regional assembly in the northwest, where Khan is hugely popular.

Also on Saturday, police stormed Khan’s residence in the eastern city of Lahore, arrested 61 suspects there and seized Molotov cocktails, weapons and ammunition after clashing with his supporters.

Khan was not at home, having traveled to Islamabad for the court appearance on charges he had sold state gifts received while in office and concealed assets. After he failed to appear before the Islamabad court, the judge postponed that hearing until March 30.

Earlier last week, Khan’s residence in Lahore was the scene of two days of clashes between police and his followers when officers attempted to arrest Khan. The warrant was later suspended.

On Sunday, police in Islamabad filed charges against Khan, 17 of his aides and scores of supporters, accusing them of terrorism and offenses related to the clashes in Islamabad the previous day. Police have also charged those arrested later with the same charges. Among the detained is Hassan Niazi, a nephew of Khan, police said in a statement.

Khan denies any wrongdoing and has claimed that his ouster was a conspiracy by Sharif's government and Washington. Both Sharif and the United States have dismissed the allegations.

Khan has also claimed there are plots to assassinate him since he was wounded last November in a shooting attack while leading a rally, when a gunman sprayed Khan's vehicle and entourage with bullets. That attack killed one of Khan's supporters and wounded 13.

On Monday, Khan claimed his scheduled court appearance Saturday in Islamabad was another such plot and promised to provide details later.

“I will expose how I almost walked into a death trap & the plot to kill me in the Judicial Complex,” he tweeted.

Khan in a video message on Monday said he didn't go to the judicial complex on Saturday to avoid a possible attack. He did not back up his claim and said the government was behind the plot to kill him to avoid a possible defeat in the next parliamentary elections, which are due later this year. He demanded to be allowed to face court cases via video links to avoid any further attack on him.

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Associated Press writer Riaz Khan contributed to this story from Peshawar, Pakistan.

 

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