Pakistan's Imran Khan dials down campaign of defiance, allows police search of home for suspects

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan dialed down his campaign of defiance on Friday, saying he would allow a police search of his home over allegations that he was harboring suspects wanted in recent violence during anti-government protests by his supporters.

Khan, who is facing about 100 legal cases against him, also appeared before a court in his hometown of Lahore to seek protection from arrest in multiple terrorism cases that authorities have raised against the country's top opposition leader.

He also condemned days of violence in which his supporters attacked public property and military installations after he was dragged out of a courtroom and arrested in a graft case in the capital, Islamabad, last week. At least 10 people were killed in clashes between his supporters and police across the country.

The rioting subsided only when Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered Khan’s release. Police sought Khan on charges of inciting supporters of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party to violence. He denies the allegation, saying he was in the custody of the National Accountability Bureau in a graft case when the clashes erupted.

Khan appeared conciliatory as he appeared before an anti-terrorism court in Lahore, the provincial capital of Punjab. The judge granted him protection from arrest in three terrorisms cases until early in June.

“Yes, I condemn it," Khan told reporters at the Lahore court, speaking of the rampage. "There is no Pakistani who will not condemn the violence.”

After Khan's release from arrest last week and return to Lahore, police surrounded his home, alleging that he was sheltering in his upscale residence of Zaman Park between 30 to 40 suspects linked to the violence.

Police, who have some 300 officers deployed around Khan's compound, threatened to raid the premises unless the suspects were handed over. The standoff was resolved with an agreement for the police to search the home. Khan's party claimed police failed to find any suspects there.

Hours later, Khan told reporters at his home that he will cooperate with the police in arresting those linked to the attacks on military installations. But he showed no sign of backing down from his drive to force elections and return to power.

“We will win the next elections even without launching any campaign,” he said, claiming his party still enjoyed mass popular support.

Since last week, small rallies in solidarity with the military have been held around the country denouncing attacks by Khan’s supporters.

Police separately announced they arrested six more suspects in Khan's neighborhood, allegedly as they were trying to flee. They had previously arrested eight others in the area, and a total of more than 4,500 suspects across the country.

Former cricket star turned Islamist politician, Khan was ousted by a no-confidence vote in Parliament last year. He has claimed his ouster was illegal and a Western conspiracy — charges his successor, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, denies.

Khan remains hugely popular among grassroots followers — though two of his lawmakers and several politicians quit his party over the recent violence — and has campaigned against Sharif's government, demanding early elections.

His campaign, arrest and the subsequent violence have deepened the political turmoil and economic crisis in Pakistan, where authorities are also facing a surge in militant attacks.

On Friday, Sirajul Haq, the head of Pakistan's key Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami party, narrowly escaped a suicide attack in Zhob, a district in the restive southwestern province of Baluchistan, police said. The bomber detonated explosives strapped to his waist when Haq was entering Zhob in a convoy of cars.

Haq's party said he was safe but five people were wounded in the attack.

There was no immediate claim for the bombing but militants and other armed groups have staged attacks in Pakistan's Baluchistan for decades.


Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Abdul Sattar in Quetta, Pakistan, contributed to this report.