Islamabad - Police in Pakistan on Sunday filed new terrorism charges against the country's populist former Prime Minister Imran Khan, a day after thousands of his supporters clashed with security forces in the capital, Islamabad.
Dozens of senior leaders and workers of Khan's opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have also been named for allegedly committing terrorism and offenses such as wounding officers and threatening their lives.
Police rounded up 61 PTI workers in connection with the clashes, saying raids were underway for further arrests.
The allegations stemmed from Saturday's clashes outside of a court compound in Islamabad where Khan was due to appear to face charges of unlawfully selling state gifts he received while in office.
Several thousand riot police fired tear gas and wielded batons for hours to disperse the crowd. Authorities said security forces responded to rocks being thrown at them. The violence injured dozens of people, including police and protesters.
Witnesses and officials said the chaos had prevented the 70-year-old opposition leader from entering the court compound, prompting the judge to allow Khan to mark his attendance from inside his vehicle and adjourn the hearing until March 30.
Khan denies the corruption charges and characterizes them as politically motivated.
Meanwhile, in a televised speech Sunday, the former prime minister condemned a police raid against his residential compound in the eastern city of Lahore while en route to Islamabad for the court hearing.
Khan said police had stormed his home and smashed down the gate and walls while his wife was at the property along with a few servants. He vowed to take legal action against the police officers behind the raid.
'I want to ask the people, police officers, military officers, and judges of this country how they would have reacted if the police had carried out such an action against their homes without a search warrant?'
Khan warned that attempts to corner him and his party or get him eliminated could plunge the country into anarchy.
'Pakistan has been pushed to a point where the situation can spiral out of control. And in such an eventuality, you will forget about (the crisis in) Sri Lanka. It will take us to an Iran-style revolution.'
A police officer fires a tear gas can as supporters of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan clash with police outside a Federal Judicial Complex in Islamabad, March 18, 2023.
The state-run media regulator barred television channels from broadcasting Khan's speech, which was carried live by PTI social media outlets, including YouTube.
Police officials defended the raid against the politician's Lahore residence, claiming they had seized weapons and ammunition, and had arrested dozens of people from the compound involved in last week's clashes with security forces, charges Khan and his aides rejected as concocted.
The police action came days after a violent standoff erupted Tuesday outside Khan's Lahore home when police officers had attempted to arrest him for failing to appear in the Islamabad court on graft charges.
Khan was removed from office in a parliamentary no-confidence 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.
The ousted leader has since held massive protest rallies across Pakistan to press for fresh elections. He has alleged his ouster was a conspiracy plotted by the Pakistan military and Sharif in collaboration with the United States.
Washington and Islamabad rejected the charges. Sharif has also turned down calls for a snap vote until later this year when the parliament completes its mandated five-year term.
Khan's party says the government has brought 97 cases against him since his removal from power, ranging from sedition, terrorism, blasphemy, and corruption.
The deposed leader reiterated Sunday the 'fake' legal challenges were allegedly part of efforts to get him arrested or disqualified from national politics in the wake of his party's popularity and sweeping victories in recent elections.
Khan was shot and wounded during a protest rally last November. He accused Sharif and an unnamed army general, among others, of plotting to kill him. Since then, he has called on the courts to allow him to appear virtually in the dozens of cases brought against him - due to the threats to his life.
Pakistani Minister of Information Marriyum Aurangzeb dismissed Khan's assertions Sunday, calling him a 'terrorist.'
She told reporters in Lahore that the opposition politician was 'flouting the law' to run away from courts. 'Yesterday it was proved that claim of Imran Khan's threat to life is bogus...Imran is intimidating the court with hooliganism and terrorism," Aurangzeb said referring to Saturday's chaotic scenes outside the court in Islamabad.
Government ministers in recent days have even called for outlawing the PTI and its leader, even though recent surveys have found Khan to be the most popular leader with a massive following in urban centers of Pakistan.
"Treating a major political leader...a principal rival, like an outlaw is short-sighted and reeks of desperation," read an editorial in the English-language DAWN newspaper Sunday.