Former Prime Minister Imran Khan rallied thousands of supporters in eastern Pakistan on Monday as courts in the capital, Islamabad, issued two more warrants for his arrest for his refusal to appear before judges in cases corruption and terrorism, officials said.
Since his ousting last April in a no-confidence vote in parliament, Khan has routinely ignored arrest warrants and court summonses in a series of cases against him, claiming they were a conspiracy of the government of his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, to discredit his campaign.
The former cricketer star turned Islamist politician has claimed his ousting was illegal and a plot by Sharif and Washington, who have denied the allegations.
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Khan’s critics say his court display is a ploy to delay his trials on allegations of terrorism, contempt of court and corruption.
One of the warrants issued on Monday related to accusations that Khan sold state gifts and hid assets while in office; the other in connection with his verbal threats against a judge at a rally last year.
The warrants call for Khan to be brought to trial for hearings scheduled for March 18 and 29. However, it is unclear whether the police would act on it.
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The developments indicate that Sharif’s government is stepping up pressure on Khan, who is currently campaigning for his party in the upcoming elections for two regional assemblies. Monday’s rally was in the eastern city of Lahore, where Khan now lives.
“Imran Khan is deliberately failing to appear in court,” said Mohsin Ranjha, a lawyer for Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League party.
Pakistan’s opposition Tehreek-e-Insaf party said authorities filed 80 “false files” against Khan in order to politically victimize the former prime minister, whose life is at risk. Fawad Chaudhry, a senior party official, said Khan’s legal team would challenge the warrants.
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Khan’s supporters threw rose petals at a convoy carrying him to the Lahore rally, which reached more than 5,000 people. Security was tightened and hundreds of police were deployed to the city for Monday’s rally, which authorities cleared.
Last Wednesday, police used water cannons and fired tear gas to disperse Khan supporters at a banned rally in Lahore. Dozens of his supporters have been arrested for defying the ban.
Khan was attacked at a rally in November when a gunman shot him in the leg. One of Khan’s supporters was killed and a dozen others were injured in the attack, which was condemned across the country.
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