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Pakistan Arrests Scores of Supporters of Ex-PM Khan

Supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan climb on shipping containers, placed to block the road, during a clash outside the federal judicial complex in Islamabad, March 18, 2023.

A police crackdown in Pakistan has led to the arrest of around 300 supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan for their alleged involvement in recent clashes with security forces and arson.

Authorities and Khan's opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party said Monday that the arrests occurred in the capital, Islamabad, and the eastern city of Lahore.

A police statement confirmed overnight raids had rounded up some 200 PTI supporters in the capital for their role in arson and attacks that injured dozens of security forces. The rest of the arrests took place in Lahore. The detainees faced terrorism and other offenses.

Khan's party workers also clashed with security forces for two straight days starting last Tuesday after police officers attempted to arrest the 70-year-old opposition leader at his Lahore residence for failing to appear before an Islamabad court hearing graft charges against him.

Another round of violent clashes took place on Saturday outside a court compound in Islamabad when Khan was due to face charges of unlawfully selling state gifts he received while in office.

Fawad Chaudhry, a central PTI leader, told reporters police had raided the homes of all senior party leaders late on Sunday.

Khan condemned the police action against his party.

"Fascism at unprecedented levels with police in Islamabad raiding homes without warrants to abduct PTI workers," he said on Twitter late Sunday. "We demand the immediate release of all our workers & their children who have been abducted."

Khan, the cricket hero-turned prime minister, was removed from office in a parliamentary no-trust vote last April, toppling his nearly four-year-old government and paving the way for the then-opposition leader, Shehbaz Sharif, to become the prime minister of a new coalition government.

Since then, in major protest rallies across Pakistan, the ousted prime minister has been demanding a snap election, alleging his removal was illegal because the Pakistani military and Sharif, in collaboration with the United States, orchestrated it.

Washington and Islamabad have rejected the charges. Sharif has also turned down calls for a snap vote until later this year when parliament completes its mandated five-year term.

Khan's party says the government has brought 97 legal cases against him since his ouster, ranging from sedition, terrorism, blasphemy, and corruption charges.

The PTI chief rejects the allegations, calling them "fake" and part of alleged efforts by Sharif and the military to have him arrested or disqualified from national politics in the wake of his party's popularity and sweeping victories in recent elections.

The government denies Khan's charges. Some ministers have lately even called for outlawing the PTI, even though recent surveys have found Khan to be the most popular leader with a massive following in urban centers of Pakistan.

Khan launched his PTI party 25 years ago to enter Pakistani politics after leading the national team in winning the 1992 Cricket World Cup and establishing an internationally recognized charity hospital for cancer patients.

Khan was shot and wounded during a protest rally last November. Khan accused Sharif and an unnamed army general, among others, of plotting to kill him. Since then, he has urged the courts to allow him to appear virtually in the dozens of cases brought against him — due to the threats to his life.

Pakistan's lingering political turmoil comes amid a deepening economic crisis facing the country of about 220 million people. Inflation has risen to historic levels and foreign exchange reserves have sunk to record lows amid fears of a default on foreign debt payments.