LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistani police stormed former Prime Minister Imran Khan's residence in the eastern city of Lahore on Saturday and arrested 61 people amid tear gas and clashes between Khan's supporters and police, officials said.
Senior police officer Suhail Sukhera, who led the operation in an upscale Lahore neighborhood, said police acted to remove a barricade erected by members of Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party and his defiant supporters. He said they blocked the lanes around Khan's residence with concrete blocks, felled trees, tents and a parked truck.
Khan was not in the home, having traveled to Islamabad to appear before a judge to face charges he sold state gifts while in office and hid his assets. The judge postponed that hearing until March 30.
Sukhera said baton-wielding Khan supporters attempted to resist police by throwing stones and Molotov cocktails and a man on the roof of Khan's residence opened fire. At least three police officers were injured.
Sukhera said police broke open the main door of Khan’s residence and found automatic weapons, Molotov cocktails, iron rods and batons used in attacks on police during the week. Sukhera said that inside the sprawling residence, illegal structures had been erected to shelter people involved in attacks on police that have injured dozens of officers.
Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said later that police would do a complete search of Khan’s home, where they found bunkers and suspected more illegal weapons and ammunition were hidden.
Witnesses in Lahore said police attempted to disperse Khan's supporters by firing tear gas and chased them to several homes in the Zaman Park neighborhood.
Khan's lawyer appeared in an Islamabad court on Saturday after a top court a day earlier suspended Khan's arrest warrant, giving him a reprieve to travel to Islamabad and face charges in the graft case without being detained.
Khan had been holed up at his home in Lahore since Tuesday after failing to appear at an earlier hearing in the case. His supporters hurled rocks and clashed with baton-wielding police for two days to protect the former premier from arrest.
Khan's motorcade arrived Saturday near the federal judicial complex in Islamabad, where his supporters also clashed with police who prevented them from entering the complex. The enraged Khan supporters threw rocks at police who responded by lobbing tear gas canisters to disperse them.Sanaullah said many of Khan's supporters were armed.
Khan's attorney, Babar Awan, filed an application for Khan's exemption from appearance in court amid special circumstances.
Law Minister Azam Nazeer Tarar condemned Khan for not turning himself over to police and not appearing in court Saturday despite arriving at the judicial complex gate. He accused Khan of using his protesting supporters to avoid indictment.
Khan’s supporters set two police vehicles and several motorcycles outside the judicial complex on fire while dispersing, according to Tarar.
Khan, during his road trip to Islamabad, said in a video message that police had broken into his residence in Lahore while his wife was alone at the home. He condemned the action and demanded that those responsible be punished.
Khan’s PTI party secretary-general, Asad Umar, in a letter to Pakistan's chief justice noted that police waited until Khan was en route to Islamabad to storm his Lahore residence. He said the “doors and walls have been razed to the ground” and more than 40 people at the home were arrested.
Khan, now the opposition leader, was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament last April. He is accused of selling state gifts while in office and concealing assets, charges he denies. It’s one in a string of cases that the former cricket star turned Islamist politician has been facing since his ouster.
The 70-year-old Khan, who has called for early elections in Parliament, has claimed that his removal from power was part of a conspiracy by his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and the United States. Both Washington and Sharif’s government have denied the allegation.
Associated Press writer Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed.
This story was corrected to show in the dateline that Lahore is a city in Pakistan, not a city in Islamabad.