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Imran Khan Vows to Appear in Pakistan Court After Street Battles

Imran Khan Vows to Appear in Pakistan Court After Street Battles

(Bloomberg) -- Former Pakistan Premier Imran Khan vowed to turn up in court on Saturday after skipping hearings, potentially setting the scene for further political unrest in a country that’s at risk of a default.

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Supporters battled with security forces outside the former cricket star’s private residence in Lahore this week as police attempted to arrest Khan. He faces charges of failing to disclose funds received from the sale of state gifts when he was in power.

“The government, I’m afraid, wants to put me in jail,” Khan said in an interview with Bloomberg Television, while repeating allegations that the administration was involved in an attempt on his life in November. “On Saturday, I plan to be in Islamabad to present myself in front of the court.”

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government has repeatedly denied any involvement in the assassination attempt, or that the court charges are a move to silence Khan ahead of elections expected later this year. Sharif has said his focus is on securing bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund and the government will complete its term in August.

Khan is attempting to build a media narrative to evade court scrutiny of corruption allegations, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said on Friday. “Khan has lost his credibility in what he says and what the actual reality is,” she said by phone.

Khan’s ouster from office in April 2022 sparked a fresh bout of political instability in Pakistan. At risk is an already-delayed IMF bailout, with the nation’s economy heading for a 2.2% contraction this fiscal year.

Khan, 70, has skipped several court appearances citing risks to his safety and has been largely confined to his home in Lahore since he was shot and wounded in the leg during a rally in November. He’s led massive street protests aimed at pressuring Sharif to call for snap polls.

The government is “petrified we’re going to sweep the elections,” Khan said. “If I felt that this government could really solve our economic problems and lift our country out of this quagmire, I would let them continue.”

A majority of Pakistani citizens surveyed in an opinion poll published last week blamed the current government for the economic crisis. Sharif’s administration enacted tough reforms in recent weeks such as raising energy prices and taxes, and is racing to meet other conditions to revive the IMF program.

Khan, who was premier for four years, downplayed the difficulty of raising taxes to meet the IMF aid conditions. It’s harder to broaden the tax base and restructure state-run companies, and a government needs a mandate from the public to take those decisions, he said, when asked what policies he would implement if he returned to power.

--With assistance from Ismail Dilawar and Karl Lester M. Yap.

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