Pakistan police arrest scores of ex-PM Imran Khan’s supporters


Thousands of supporters of Imran Khan, Pakistan’s former prime minister, were arrested by security officials in recent weeks, escalating political tension ahead of national elections this year.
The police have detained more than 2,100 party workers, according to Fawad Chaudhry, Khan’s aide. He said the whereabouts of many are unknown. Senior leaders of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the party Khan founded, planned protests in several cities on Friday.
Friction is building between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government and an opposition led by Khan, who was ousted from power last April but remains popular with voters across the country. The former cricket star has dodged arrest several times. In March, supporters formed a human barricade outside his home in Lahore to block police from detaining him.
The political brouhaha risks derailing a long-awaited bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund. For months, Pakistan’s economy has struggled to stay afloat amid high inflation and falling foreign currency reserves.
“Imran Khan has taken the country, the politics of this country, to a point where only one of us can exist,” said Rana Sanaullah, Pakistan’s interior minister. “We would certainly go to any extent with no care about what is principally right and what is wrong or what is democratic and what is undemocratic.”
Khan’s supporters are now being rounded up in large numbers. One provincial lawmaker, Arsalan Taj Ghumman, was detained in March. The police entered his home, blindfolded him and whisked him away in his pajamas, Ghumman said in a phone interview.
The lawmaker remained in custody in Karachi for more than 10 days. He said he had limited access to a lawyer and the arrest was made for a case that didn’t feature his name.
“The arrests show the government’s fear of Khan’s popularity,” said Mazhar Abbas, a political analyst from Karachi. “Like past governments, this government too is using different tactics to suppress its political opponents.”
A recent Gallup opinion poll showed that Khan’s approval ratings jumped to 61% in February from 36% in January of last year.
Pakistan’s ruling leaders have struggled to retain their popularity amid high consumer prices and anger at a flagging economy.

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