Imran Khan supporters protest in Pakistan over fears of his arrest

Protests spread across Pakistan as police tried to arrest opposition leader Imran Khan while Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government struggled to restore calm.

After an unsuccessful attempt to arrest the former prime minister on Tuesday night, law enforcement officials clashed with protesters loyal to Khan’s Pakistani Tehreek-e-Insaf party outside his home in central Lahore on Wednesday.

Outside the compound, his supporters threw stones at police, who used tear gas, armored vehicles and water cannon to quell the protests. The PTI claimed the connection was “under attack”.

Khan, who was ousted by a no-confidence vote last year, has been locked in a bitter political confrontation for months with Sharif’s government, which is struggling with a deep economic crisis.

Many analysts believe Khan will be the most popular candidate if allowed to run in the national election due in October, but he faces a barrage of legal challenges. If convicted, he could be barred from holding public office.

The attempt to arrest Khan stems from allegations that he unlawfully sold gifts he received during his tenure as prime minister from 2018 to 2022. Pakistan’s Electoral Commission has found he broke rules and a court in Islamabad ordered Khan’s arrest after he failed to show up for a hearing. Khan blamed security concerns for his non-attendance.

Khan and his supporters say he has not broken any rules and describe the allegations as an attempt to remove him from the pre-election race. “You think Imran Khan’s arrest will put you to sleep,” Khan said on Twitter, addressing his followers. “You have to prove them wrong.”

In Islamabad, demonstrators briefly tried to block the main road that connects the Pakistani capital with the neighboring city of Rawalpindi. There were further protests in Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan, and in Peshawar.

Shireen Mazari, a senior PTI leader, told the Financial Times the party will step up demonstrations if Khan is arrested. “If he is taken into custody there will be more protests,” she said. “The situation will only get worse.”

Political tensions were exacerbated by Pakistan’s economic hardship. The country is grappling with one of its deepest financial crises in history, a product of domestic mismanagement, high inflation and rising commodity prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

An index measuring inflation of everyday items earlier this month topped 40 percent and the country’s foreign exchange reserves have fallen to about $4 billion, enough for just a month’s imports.

Sharif’s government has tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a rescue package with the IMF. This month, Pakistan’s central bank raised its lending rate by 300 basis points to 20 percent, the highest in Asia, a critical IMF condition.

But the government has resisted other IMF-demanded conditions, including tax hikes and cuts in energy subsidies, arguing they are politically unworkable ahead of the elections. Imran Khan supporters protest in Pakistan over fears of his arrest

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