By Asif Shahzad
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Ousted Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan was on Thursday due to appeal to several courts for bail on a growing list of charges against him in a bid to avert his arrest, which could risk a repeat of violent protests by his supporters.
The 70-year-old former cricket hero who become prime minister in 2018 has been embroiled in a confrontation with the powerful military since he was ousted in a no-confidence vote last year.
The military has ruled directly or overseen civilian governments throughout the history of a country in which political confrontations are often fought out in court.
Khan’s May 9 arrest on corruption charges, which he denies, sparked protests by his supporters who ransacked military facilities, raising new worries about the stability of the nuclear armed country of 220 million people as it struggles with its worst economic crisis in decades.
Khan was freed days later but new charges against him have been piling up. On Wednesday, police named him in connection with the murder of a lawyer seeking sedition proceedings against him.
Khan says he’s facing nearly 150 cases and denies all of them.
Khan’s lawyer, Gohar Khan, said the former prime minister would on Thursday approach anti-terrorism, anti-graft courts and the High Court in the capital, Islamabad, to appeal for bail in connection with more than a dozen cases.
Khan, who has been campaigning for an early election since his ouster last year, appeared resigned to the possibility of being locked up for a second time.
“I’m ready to be arrested,” he said in an online address to party workers late on Wednesday.
The military, which denies involvement in civilian politics, initially saw Khan with his conservative, nationalist agenda as a leader who shared their interests.
But as prime minister, Khan took steps that angered the generals, in particular in connection with security sector appointments.
He has accused the military and its intelligence agency of trying to destroy his party, saying he has “no doubt” he will be tried in a military court and jailed as part of the army-backed crackdown on his party.
The military issued a statement on Wednesday saying all planners and perpetrators of the May 9 violence had to be brought to justice.
The prime minister who replaced Khan, Shahbaz Sharif, has rejected his call for an election before one is due by late this year. Khan says the cases against him are aimed at ensuring he is excluded from the polls.
Khan has appealed for talks to end the standoff with the military. The government has rejected his calls.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad; editing by Robert Birsel)