Pakistani police have called off a two-day operation to arrest former prime minister Imran Khan after violent clashes delayed them and a court has ordered it halted until a cricket match begins.
“We cannot risk the security and safety of the Pakistan Premier League,” a senior police official told the Reuters news agency, explaining that the operation would resume after the cricket tournament ends.
The Lahore High Court also ordered the police to halt the process pending the outcome of a hearing on the legality of the arrest warrant after clashes broke out between the police and the 70-year-old Ansar Khan outside his home, the BBC reported.
Supporters of Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), protested Khan’s arrest, which the former prime minister insisted was unnecessary because he had agreed to appear in court on March 18, but the police refused to accept the signed guarantee. Bond and tried to arrest him anyway.
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A lower court issued a warrant for his arrest for defying orders to present himself on charges that he illegally sold state gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries during his time in office.
The gifts included seven watches, one of which was worth an estimated $300,000, as well as perfume, diamond jewelry and dinner sets, according to a list shared by Information Minister Marium Aurangzeb last year.
The country’s parliament ousted him from office via a vote of no confidence over the allegations, and he insists the case is politically motivated. He denies any wrongdoing.
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Khan previously told the BBC: “Whether I’m in jail or not, they can’t stop my party from winning.”
Since then, he has held protest rallies across the country to demand snap elections, during which he was shot.
The police tried to take Khan away by force, but his supporters stood their ground and clashed with the police for two days before the decision to stop the PSL cricket tournament.
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An unnamed senior police official told Al Jazeera, “Since the teams arrived at the stadium a few hours before the match and the roads needed to be cleared, the security personnel at Zaman Park retreated for a short while.”
Gaddafi Stadium, which hosts the match between Lahore Qalandar and Multan Sultans, is more than five miles from Khan’s house.
Khan appeared outside and spoke to supporters, and his party wrote on Twitter that “people” responded with police who were “sent to harm Imran Khan”.
Cricket remains the most popular sport in the country, attracting international players to the country. Sport often finds itself intertwined with politics.
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Khan himself enjoyed an illustrious career as a professional cricketer, playing as a bowler for Pakistan taking the all-time Test bowling ranking of No. 3 during the 1980s.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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