Imran Khan court hearing cancelled after clashes in Pakistan capital

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Imran Khan court hearing, clashes

LAHORE, Pakistan, March 15 (Reuters) - A Pakistan court on Wednesday ordered police to halt an operation to arrest former Prime Minister Imran Khan, bringing an end clashes with supporters of the former cricketer outside his home in which police fired water cannon and tear gas.

Security forces withdrew from around the house in the eastern city of Lahore, easing political instability in the nuclear-armed nation which is struggling with an economic crisis and awaiting an International Monetary Fund bailout.

Earlier, a senior police official said security forces had withdrawn to accommodate crickets Pakistan Super League, the countrys top sporting event, which is being held at a stadium a few km (miles) away.

A lower court in Islamabad had issued a warrant against Khan for defying orders to present himself in court over charges that he unlawfully sold state gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries when he was prime minister from 2018 to 2022.

In a tweet, Khan said he had signed a "surety bond" that would guarantee his appearance in the court by a March 18 deadline. Senior aide Fawad Chaudhry said Khans Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party had asked the court to stop the police action.

According to a list shared by Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb last year, the gifts given to Khan include seven watches, including one valued at 85 million rupees (about $300,000).

[1/10] A supporter of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan throws stones towards police during clashes in Lahore, Pakistan, March 15, 2023. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said a staff-level agreement with the IMF would come soon. Pakistan is expecting to unlock $1.1 billion from the IMF, which will be critical in helping it avoid defaulting on external debt obligations.

"Pakistan and the IMF do appear to be nearing a deal, but the IMF remain nervous," said Gareth Leather, a senior economist in the Emerging Asia team at Capital Economics. "Partly this is because of the country’s volatile politics."

Political infighting is common in Pakistan, where no prime minister has yet fulfilled a full term and where the military has ruled for nearly half of the country’s history.

Emre Akcakmak, a Dubai-based senior consultant at East Capital, said delays reaching an agreement with the IMF had put more pressure on the country’s finances, "increasing support for Khan himself".

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