LAHORE, Pakistan - Pakistani security forces withdrew from around Imran Khan's home on Wednesday, putting a halt to clashes that had erupted after police tried to arrest the former prime minister for not showing up in a case against him related to selling state gifts.
Police and other security personnel were seen leaving the Lahore neighbourhood were Khan's home is located. Khan was then seen standing outside his home, wearing a transparent gas mask and talking to supporters.
Earlier, security forces had fired tear gas and water cannons at hundreds of Khan's supporters who had cordoned off his home in an effort to prevent his arrest.
The unrest added to the instability in nuclear-armed Pakistan, which is struggling with an economic crisis and awaiting an International Monetary Fund bailout.
A senior police official said the court-ordered operation to arrest Khan, a former international cricketer, was halted temporarily to accommodate cricket's Pakistan Super League (PSL), the country's top sporting event which is being played at a stadium a few km (miles) away from Khan's neighbourhood.
The tournament ends on Sunday.
"We can't afford to risk the security and safety of the PSL," said the official, who declined to be named because they were not authorised to speak to the media. "The court orders will be implemented."
A lower court in the capital Islamabad had last week issued an arrest warrant against Khan for defying orders to present himself in court to defend charges that he unlawfully sold state gifts given to him by foreign dignitaries while 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, and senior aide Fawad Chaudhry said Khan's party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, had asked the court to stop the police from arresting him.
According to a list shared by Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb last year, the gifts given to Khan included seven expensive wrist watches, including one valued at 85 million Pakistani rupees (about $300,000).
The list, which Reuters could not independently verify, also contained perfumes, diamond jewellery and dinner sets.
Khan has denied wrongdoing.
The legal proceedings against Khan began after he was ousted from office in a parliamentary vote early last year. Since then, he has been demanding a snap election and holding nationwide protest rallies, and was shot and wounded in one of these rallies. Current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has rejected Khan's demands, saying the election would be held as scheduled later this year.
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.
($1 = 282.2500 Pakistani rupees)
(Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari and Asif Shazhad, writing by Miral Fahmy; editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)