Pakistan PM orders those involved in violence tracked down and arrested
By Ariba Shahid
KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan's Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif on Saturday gave authorities 72 hours to identify and arrest all those involved in violent acts after former Prime Minister Imran Khan's arrest this week sparked deadly unrest.
Sharif said the cases would be tried by anti-terrorism courts.
"All available resources including technological aid and intelligence are being deployed to chase down these elements. Bringing these people to justice is a test case for the government," said the premier.
Khan departed court premises late Friday night and headed towards his hometown Lahore amid high security, after a court granted him bail. His arrest in a land fraud case on Tuesday, which the Supreme Court ruled "invalid and unlawful" on Thursday, sparked violent protests by his supporters.
They stormed military establishments, set ablaze a state broadcaster building, smashed buses, ransacked a top army official's house and attacked other assets, resulting in the army being deployed in multiple cities.
More than 2,800 arrests were made, while 152 police officers were injured, 74 police vehicles vandalised and set on fire, and 22 government buildings, including police stations and offices, were damaged, said the police of Pakistan's most populous province, Punjab.
At least eight people were killed in the violence, a spasm of unrest in a country that is facing economic crisis, with record inflation, anaemic growth and delayed IMF funding.
Following Sharif's announcement, Punjab's government released pictures of unidentified protesters involved in an attack on a military official's residence on Wednesday.
Before leaving court on Friday, Khan welcomed the court's bail order and said the judiciary was Pakistan's only protection against the "law of the jungle".
"I must say I expected this from our judiciary, because the only hope now left – the only thin line between a banana republic and a democracy is the judiciary," he told journalists inside the court premises.
Prior to his return to Lahore, the authorities blocked off military areas there, which have been a focus for pro-Khan protests. He was welcomed back home by crowds of supporters showering his vehicle with rose petals.
Khan, 70, is a cricket star-turned-politician who was ousted as prime minister in April 2022 in a parliamentary no-confidence vote and Pakistan's most popular leader according to opinion polls. He denies the allegations of graft levelled against him.
In a virtual address to his followers on Saturday, Khan asked the Supreme Court to set up an independent investigation into the violence to uncover who was behind it, hinting his party was being framed.
He also asked his supporters to go out onto their streets on Sunday evening with placards to protest.
Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were inaccessible in Pakistan on Saturday, Reuters journalists said, after access was briefly restored late on Friday.
The Ministry of Interior had instructed the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to suspend mobile broadband services across the country, and blocked access to the three social media networks, on Tuesday night.
(Reporting by Ariba Shahid in Karachi and Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Editing by Frances Kerry and Mark Potter)