A Pakistani court ordered police to halt an operation to apprehend former Prime Minister Imran Khan, putting an end to pitched battles in which police baton-charged supporters of the former cricketer and fired water cannon and tear gas.
Security forces withdrew from around his home in the eastern city of Lahore, easing political unrest in the nuclear-armed country, which is suffering from an economic crisis and is awaiting a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.
The Lahore high court ordered police to postpone their efforts to arrest Khan until Thursday, provincial information minister Amir Mir told Reuters.
Earlier, a senior police official said security forces had withdrawn to accommodate cricket’s Pakistan Super League (PSL), the country’s top sporting event, which is being held at a stadium a few km (miles) away.
The operation to arrest Khan came after a lower court in the capital Islamabad issued a warrant against him 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, and senior aide Fawad Chaudhry said Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, 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).
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 held nationwide protest rallies demanding a snap election, during one of which he was shot and wounded.
Current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has rejected Khan’s demands, saying the election will 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.