A supporter of ex-PM Imran Khan hits a police armoured vehicle in Pakistan's capital Islamabad
Islamabad (AFP) - Security forces patrolled streets across Pakistan on Thursday and detained supporters of former prime minister Imran Khan, following violent protests over his arrest on corruption charges.
Khan’s arrest on Tuesday was the culmination of months of political crisis that saw the ousted leader wage a campaign of defiance against the powerful military.
The arrest has enraged supporters of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. For two days, thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest around Pakistan, and violent clashes with security forces have erupted.
At least nine people have died in protest-related incidents, police and hospitals said.
Hundreds of police officers have been injured and more than 2,000 people arrested across the country, mostly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, police added.
At least seven officials from PTI’s central leadership accused of orchestrating the riots were also detained.
On Thursday, police with batons and riot shields were deployed to quell any further unrest.
Imran Khan has waged an unprecedented campaign against Pakistan's military
“If they think that the arrest of Imran Khan will demoralise us, then they are hugely mistaken,” said protester Niaz Ali on Wednesday in Peshawar, where rioters were accused of torching several monuments and government buildings.
“We stand with Imran Khan and will support him till death.”
The former cricket superstar, who remains wildly popular, was ousted in April 2022 in a no-confidence vote in parliament after he lost the support of Pakistan’s military.
Khan has since said the dozens of cases brought against him following his ousting are part of an effort by the government and the army to prevent him from returning to power ahead of elections due in the autumn.
Imran Khan's supporters took to the streets in the thousands following his arrest over corruption charges
The government on Wednesday approved the deployment of the army in two provinces – including Punjab, the most populous – and in the capital to restore peace.
The military earlier issued a strongly worded statement saying it was exercising “extreme restraint”.
“In its lust for power, this group has done what the country’s eternal enemies could not do for 75 years,” the statement said, referring to Khan’s supporters.
It warned of a “severe reaction” to any further attacks on state and military facilities, and that the responsibility will lie with “a group that wants to push Pakistan into civil war”.
Khan’s party dismissed the statement as “contrary to facts and the situation on the ground”.
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Islamabad police said troops had overnight entered the capital’s sensitive “red zone” where government buildings are housed.
A protester kicks a tear gas cannister fired by police in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city
The interior ministry has ordered mobile internet services cut and restricted access to social media sites Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Pakistan’s communications agency said.
Authorities have also ordered schools closed nationwide –- with year-end exams cancelled.
“People should protest but it doesn’t mean setting fire and damaging government property, or harming poor people and damaging their cars,” said 45-year-old Syed Muzaffar Shah in the city of Peshawar.
The country is struggling through a severe economic downturn, brought about in part by deepening political instability of the past year, with the rupee plummeting to a record low against the dollar on Thursday.
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Map of Pakistan locating the cities where the main protests were reported following former prime minister Imran Khan's arrest on May 9.
Khan’s arrest came hours after the military rebuked him for alleging that a senior officer was involved in a plot to assassinate him. The army denied the accusation.
Criticism of Pakistan’s military establishment is considered a red line.
Pakistani politicians have frequently been arrested and jailed since the country’s founding in 1947.
But few have so directly challenged a military which holds significant influence over domestic politics and foreign policy and that has staged at least three coups and ruled for more than three decades.
Khan on Wednesday went before a specially convened court which remanded him in custody for eight days following a request by Pakistan’s top anti-corruption agency, the National Accountability Bureau, Ali Bukhari, one of his lawyers, told AFP.
The agency earlier said Khan had ignored repeated court summons over alleged corruption linked to a trust fund he set up with his wife, renowned for being a spiritual healer.
Khan was also indicted without being arrested over separate accusations he mislead officials about gifts he received from foreign leaders while in power, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan, which has filed the case.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday called on all parties in the crisis to refrain from violence.