Imran Khan shot at Pakistan protest rally, say associates

Opinion

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s leading opposition leader Imran Khan was shot in the leg and suffered minor injuries during a protest on Thursday, party officials said.

A gunman opened fire on a car in which the former prime minister and several other party officials were participating in a protest convoy. The attack took place near the eastern Pakistani city of Wazirabad, where hundreds of Khan’s supporters had gathered.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Khan, a senior leader of Khan’s party, said in a statement to local broadcasters that Khan is Pakistan’s prime minister, interior minister and “currently has received some information and can speak with authority”. Pakistan’s intelligence agency was behind the attack.

Umar told local broadcasters, “Khan has asked these three people to step down from office. If they are not fired, there will be a nationwide protest. We will not allow Pakistan to be ruled like this. Our protest will continue until these three people are fired.”

Home Minister Rana Sanaullah called the allegations baseless. “They have no evidence and are making these false allegations just for their political gain,” he said. Sanaullah said that Khan’s party had been spreading “extremist views” that showed a new resurgence in Khan and his supporters.

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“Remember, you too can be a target of hate,” he said. “Please stop this, it only invites more violence.”

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had earlier condemned the shooting and ordered an investigation.

A video of the attack released by Khan’s office shows the party leader ducking on a bus as gunshots erupt to loud music from the crowd.

“Khan was hit in the leg but his condition is stable. The former leader is undergoing treatment in Lahore,” Umar told local Pakistani broadcaster Airi News.

The attack escalated the conflict between Khan and the Pakistani government. Khan’s supporters and members of his party are describing it as an assassination attempt and say that it is an attempt by Pakistan’s leadership to politicize the shooting and create violence.

In a video confession released by local police, the shooter said he acted alone and did not give a political motive for the attack. Khan, who was not named in the video, was shot at by loud music during the rally, which he said was disrespectful to many conservative Muslims during the Muslim call to prayer.

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“I tried to kill. I tried to kill him, only Imran Khan and no one else,” the man said in a video broadcast by several Pakistani news outlets. “It was a sudden decision on my part,” he said, suggesting it was not a planned attack. “There was no one behind me, no one with me. I was working alone, and no one came with me.

Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb in his address to the people condemned the incident and asked for calm.

“The shooter gave reasons why he tried to kill Khan, and therefore there is no need to get into politics in this matter,” she said. Calling the attempted murder allegations “deeply regrettable,” she said, “Please refrain from such irresponsible statements until the investigation is complete.”

Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote this year, but has since been building popular support across the country, holding mass rallies calling government officials corrupt and foreign puppets.

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Last week, Khan began a trip to the capital Islamabad to demand early elections. They promised that the rally would end in the biggest peaceful demonstration ever seen in the history of Pakistan.

Pakistan banned Imran Khan from politics, sparking unrest.

Khan is under pressure from the Pakistani government as his popular protest movement grows. Several legal cases have been filed against him, including one under Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act. On Friday, Pakistan’s intelligence chief made a rare public statement accusing the military of asking for “illegal and unconstitutional” support.

Lt. Gen. Nadiam Anjum, who is rarely seen in public, announced the charges in a heated news conference. Khan asked his soldiers for favors during his tenure, but Khan did not say what he asked for.

Khan’s party has denied any wrongdoing.

Pakistan’s military is considered the most powerful in the country, but the top brass of the security forces rarely weigh in on politics.

George reports from Kabul.

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