Pakistan's ex-PM Imran Khan marks court presence as supporters clash with police
By Ariba Shahid and Akhtar Soomro
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan officially marked his presence in court in the country's capital on Saturday, his aide said, complying with judicial orders after a standoff with police that has led to intense clashes with his supporters.
Local media Geo TV reported that the trial court in Islamabad cancelled the warrants for his arrest as a result of his presence.
Khan, in office from 2018 to 2022, is facing a spate of legal challenges, including one that prompted a failed attempt to arrest him on Tuesday, sparking clashes between supporters and police, which also took place on Saturday.
Khan's aide Fawad Chaudhry told Reuters the former premier's presence had been recorded officially by the court and he had left to return to his home in the city of Lahore.
According to local media, Khan's vehicle reached the judicial complex in Islamabad amidst clashes between police and his supporters. They reported that, given the chaos around the complex, he was unable to physically enter the courtroom, and was ultimately allowed by the judge to sign his presence from his vehicle.
He was ordered to address charges in court on Saturday of unlawfully selling state gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries while in office.
Khan says he followed legal procedures in acquiring the gifts.
Earlier in the day, police had entered Khan's home in Lahore after he left for his court appearance in Islamabad and arrested several of his supporters over allegations of attacks against officers during clashes earlier in the week.
Another Khan aide, Shireen Mazari, said police had broken down the front gate of Khan's home.
In Islamabad, the police chief told local broadcaster Geo News that Khan's supporters had attacked police near the court and fired teargas shells, prompting police to fire more teargas back.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif took to Twitter to criticise Khan, saying he was using people as human shields and was attempting to intimidate the judiciary.
Khan has led nationwide protests since his ouster from power last year and has had a spate of cases registered against him.
Earlier this week, police and Khan's supporters clashed outside his home during the arrest attempt.
Hours before leaving his home, the former cricket star told Reuters he has formed a committee to lead his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), if he is arrested.
Khan, who was shot and wounded while campaigning in November, said in the interview the threat to his life is greater than before and asserted - without providing evidence - that his political opponents and the military want to block him from standing in elections later this year.
The military and government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Sharif's government has denied being behind the cases against Khan. The military, which has an outsized role in Pakistan, having ruled the country for nearly half of its 75-year history, has said it remains neutral towards politics.
The court has previously issued arrest warrants for Khan in the case as he had failed to appear on previous hearings despite summonses.
On his assurance that he would appear on Saturday, the court granted Khan protection against arrest, but he said he feared the police and government planned to take him into custody.
"It is now clear that, despite my having gotten bail in all my cases, the (Pakistan Democratic Movement coalition) govt intends to arrest me. Despite knowing their malafide intentions, I am proceeding to Islamabad & the court bec(ause) I believe in rule of law," Khan said on Twitter.
"It is also obvious now that the entire siege of Lahore was not about ensuring I appear before the court in a case but was intended to take me away to prison so that I am unable to lead our election campaign."
Pakistan's information minister said this week the government had nothing to do with the police action and the police were complying with court orders.
CLASH OUTSIDE LAHORE HOME
During Tuesday's arrest attempt, hundreds of supporters prevented police from entering the premises. Authorities said they were attacked by petrol bombs, iron rods and slingshots.
Many of the supporters stayed back to guard Khan's home as he left for Islamabad on Saturday.
The police chief for Punjab province, Usman Anwar, told a media conference in Lahore that officers went to Khan's house on Saturday to intercept people who had been involved in earlier clashes with police and had arrested 61 people, including for throwing petrol bombs.
Khan's party shared with journalists footage that appeared to show police in the garden of the Lahore home beating his supporters with batons.
Khan said his wife was alone in the house during the raid.
Pakistani Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told Geo News the police recovered weapons from the premises outside Khan's home and had a warrant to carry out the search. Sanaullah said law enforcement personnel did not enter the residence, remaining in the garden and driveway.
(Reporting by Akhtar Soomro in Islamabad, Ariba Shahid in Karachi, Gibran Peshimam and Mubasher Bukhari in LahoreEditing by William Mallard, Frances Kerry and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)