- By Kelly Ng & Caroline Davies
- Singapore and Islamabad
Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan has appeared before a judge, a day after his arrest on corruption charges sparked nationwide protests.
Nearly 1,000 people have been arrested, police say, since Mr Khan was held in Islamabad on charges which he denies.
There is tight security at the police guesthouse where he is being detained, which is serving as a courtroom.
The arrest dramatically escalated a political battle between Mr Khan and Pakistan’s powerful military.
Conviction would disqualify him from standing for election.
At least two people died in violent protests that broke out in several cities across Pakistan following his arrest on Tuesday.
The former international cricket star, 70, was ousted last April, less than four years into his term as prime minister.
In November, he was shot in the leg while campaigning among crowds in the city of Wazirabad.
He has accused a senior intelligence official of carrying out the attack – an accusation strongly denied by the military in recent days. A day before his arrest, the military had warned Mr Khan against repeating the allegation.
He is now facing dozens of charges relating to corruption and sedition, which he says are politically motivated. Until Tuesday, he had managed to evade arrest several times by refusing to show up to court hearings.
His supporters argue that the current Pakistan government has brought these charges against Mr Khan in a bid to bar him from contesting in general elections due in October. Mr Khan had been campaigning across the country for the poll to be held earlier.
“Mr Imran Khan will face the law, if innocent, [he] can contest the election. But if found guilty of corruption, he will have to face the consequence of that,” Minister of Planning Ahsan Iqbal said in a press conference on Wednesday.
Police have carried out raids and arrested supporters of Mr Khan’s party in the hours since his detention.
Asad Umar, the secretary-general of Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was among those arrested.
Almost 1,000 people were also arrested in Punjab province after protests there on Tuesday night, police said.
Pictures early on Wednesday local time showed lines of officers forming in front of the police guest house in the capital Islamabad.
PTI said Mr Khan had not had access to legal counsel, and that the party would challenge the legality of his being arrested in a court room.
They also claim the arrest by Punjab Rangers, a paramilitary force, and within court premises was illegal. However, Islamabad’s High Court declared the arrest legal on Tuesday.
Other photos show scores of vehicles badly burned in Pakistan’s largest city Karachi, after overnight protests.
Some mobile internet services remain inaccessible across the country. Pakistan’s telecommunication authorities said they had suspended services on instructions from the interior ministry.
Schools also remain closed, some highways have been blocked and there is little traffic plying roads in major cities.
Protests are expected to continue on Wednesday, with some demonstrators planning to march to Islamabad and the PTI calling for a nationwide strike.
“This was last night, the crowds will be bigger today to protect Imran Khan!” PTI posted on its official Twitter account, accompanied by a clip of a mass protest on Tuesday evening.
Mr Khan’s supporters on Tuesday ransacked the corps commander’s residence in Lahore, making away with peacocks – among other things – they said were bought with “citizen’s money”.
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Mr Khan’s supporters have also taken to the streets in the UK, US and Canada, among other countries, following his detention.
Speaking to the BBC’s Newshour on Tuesday, Mr Khan’s spokesman, Raoof Hasan, said he expected “the worst” and that the arrest could plunge the country “into chaos and anarchy”.
“We’re facing multiple crises. There is an economic crisis, there is a political crisis, there is a cost of livelihood crisis and consequently this occasion will be a catharsis for them to step out and I fear a fair amount of violence is going to be back.”
Dramatic footage showed dozens of security officers forcibly removing the 70-year-old Mr Khan from court, then bundling him into a police vehicle.
Tuesday’s arrest was based on a new warrant for a separate graft case, connected to a case involving the transfer of land for Al-Qadir University, near Islamabad.
Many analysts believe Mr Khan’s election win in 2018 happened with the help of the military. But amid a growing economic crisis, observers say he fell out of favour with the powerful military, the crucial behind-the-scenes player in nuclear-armed Pakistan.
Since being in opposition, he has become one of the military’s most vocal critics.
The international community has responded to the chaos in Pakistan, calling for restraint and rule of law to be upheld.
“Restraint and cool headedness are needed” in such tense times, the EU said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Pakistan’s challenges can only be addressed and its pathway can only be determined by Pakistanis themselves, through sincere dialogue and in line with the rule of law,” it said.
A spokesman from the US State Department called for the “respect of democratic principles and the rule of law around the world”.