Supporters welcome Pakistan’s Khan back to Lahore

Islamabad, May 13 (EFE).- Supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan came out early Saturday to welcome him home on his release from custody days after a dramatic arrest that sparked unrest across Pakistan.

“Men, women & children are out on the streets of Lahore at 3am, to welcome their leader, Imran Khan!,” the former premier’s PTI party said on Twitter.

The tweet was accompanied by video clips of large crowds on a main thoroughfare in Pakistan’s second-largest city, where the future cricket star and politician was born in 1952.

“Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), PTI Chairman Imran Khan is finally back in his home,” the party said in a subsequent tweet with the hashtag Behind You Skipper, referring to Khan’s role as captain of the Pakistan national team that won the 1992 Cricket World Cup.

The Islamabad High Court granted Khan a two-week release on Friday, a day after Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that his detention on May 9 was “invalid and unlawful.”

But the ex-premier remained in the courthouse until nearly midnight amid reports of gunfire outside the building.

In a video recorded while traveling by car to Lahore, Khan said that the Islamabad police chief delayed his departure by three hours, insisting that it was too dangerous to leave the building.

“By persuading him that we would inform the entire Pakistani nation about his act of kidnapping and forcefully detaining us, we managed to secure our release,” Khan said.

“After finally setting out, we discovered that the roads were devoid of any traffic and that the perceived danger was non-existent,” he added.

Khan’s arrest by hooded, black-clad paramilitaries inside the Islamabad High Court complex pushed the South Asian nation of 231 million into a fresh crisis and at least eight civilians – all of them PTI supporters – died in clashes with police.

The former prime minister was in court for a hearing in one of several corruption cases pending against him.

Once the Supreme Court intervened to strike down the arrest, the Islamabad court granted Khan protected bail in one of the corruption cases, barring his re-arrest in that case for at least two weeks.

Even so, the corruption charges still stand, and he also faces prosecution for alleged terrorism, while the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is threatening to charge Khan for this week’s violent protests by PTI supporters.

Coinciding with Khan’s release, the government lifted the restrictions on the internet and other communications that it imposed in response to the unrest.

Khan claims the criminal charges against him are part of a plot by the Sharif government to get rid of the opposition.

The charismatic cricketer-turned-politician was wounded in an assassination attempt during a rally last November. The shooting left one of his supporters dead and 13 others injured.

Blaming the shooting on the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency, Khan said Tuesday that the government wanted to prevent him from campaigning for elections due this year.

Khan has accused the Pakistani military of a role in his ouster in April 2022.

The PTI leader took office in 2018, promising an end to endemic corruption in the country and to create an Islamic welfare state as a response to Pakistan’s economic crisis.

He became the first prime minister to be removed in a no-confidence vote in Pakistan, where no premier has ever completed a full five-year term in office.

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