ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's government accused former Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday of sheltering aides and supporters wanted over attacks on the army following his arrest last week, and warned he had 24 hours to hand them over or face a police operation.
Khan's arrest and the violence that followed has deepened political instability in the South Asian nation of 220 million. Pakistan has been facing its worst ever economic crisis, with a long delay in securing IMF funding critical to averting a balance of payment crisis.
Khan said his arrest was imminent.
"Probably my last tweet before my next arrest," he tweeted Wednesday evening, adding that police have surrounded his house in eastern city of Lahore.
Punjab province's information minister Amir Mir said intelligence and law enforcement agencies had identified that some 30 to 40 people accused of attacking military installations were hiding at Khan's home in the eastern city of Lahore.
"We're giving an ultimatum that these terrorists should be turned over to the police, or else there will be action," Mir told a press conference in the city. He warned Khan had 24 hours to surrender the suspects, and that a police operation would be launched if he did not comply.
Khan's aide Iftikhar Durrani said the accusation that he was sheltering people suspected of involvement in the violence carried no weight, and repeated his call for an independent inquiry.
Khan was arrested on May 9 on graft allegations, which he denies. He was released on bail last Friday, and on Wednesday the Islamabad High Court granted a bail extension until May 31, his lawyer Faisal Chaudhry said.
Thousands of Khan supporters had attacked and set on fire scores of government and public buildings, including the army's headquarters, following his arrest. More than 3,000 people are already in custody over the violence.
The former cricket star-turn-politician has been rallying his supporters to demand a snap election since he was ousted in a parliamentary vote of confidence in April 2022.
Mir, the Punjab minister, and federal Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said people accused of attacking army installations during the violence would be tried in military courts.
"The attacks against the country's army is a sedition," Aurangzeb told a separate press conference on Wednesday.
The military had already announced that those accused who attacked its installations would be tried under army laws, saying the May 9 attacks were "pre-planned" and ordered by leaders of Khan's party, which he and his party deny.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), an independent civil rights group, said on Tuesday it opposed the use of military laws to try civilians, saying it risked denying their right to due process.
(Additional reporting by Gibran Peshimam in Karachi and Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Editing by Alex Richardson and Toby Chopra)