Just as an uneasy calm began to settle in the provincial capital after PTI chief Imran Khan set sail for Islamabad to appear before a court, the police on Saturday stormed into his Lahore home, knocking down all barricades and doors to launch a ‘surprise’ search operation inside the property.
Footage showed cranes breaking through the main gate of the Zaman Park residence as rock-ribbed loyalists held their ground in a protest camp outside and scuffled with officials.
The high drama played out against the hazy backdrop of harrowing TV footage showing heavy tear-gas shelling, baton-charging, manhandling, mass arrests and bleeding.
The search warrants shared by police obtained under Section 47 of CrPC read, "investigating officer is directed to accompany a lady police officer not below the rank of inspector at the time of search of a requisite house in accordance with law".
The police cracked down on the PTI supporters as it tried to muscle its way into the residence that has remained a battleground between the PTI-led opposition and the PDM government.
The move also followed days of standoff and intense clashes between the police and Imran’s supporters around the property, where the police had attempted to arrest the former premier on Tuesday.
Later, in the day Punjab Inspector General (IG) Dr Usman Anwar made the claims that “ammunition”, including petrol bombs, was also recovered from outside Imran’s residence.
Addressing a news conference in Lahore, IG Anwar put on display the alleged petrol bombs which, he claimed, were recovered from Zaman Park and “there is also ammunition other than this”.
He said the petrol bombs recovered were “used by the PTI workers against the police”.
He said bunkers and sacks of sand were also discovered creating the impression of it being a no-go area. The spot near Imran’s house where the “petrol bombs were made” was also identified by the police.
The Lahore capital city police officer (CCPO) himself was monitoring the operation as the police used heavy machinery to break down the gate of Imran's residence.
The police were accompanied by water cannons, bulldozers, and a prisoner van. They soon demolished PTI camps in the area with the help of cranes and removed barriers and containers.
Dozens of activists were arrested from outside the PTI chairman’s house as workers resisted and pelted stones at the police. The police then initiated tear-gas shelling to control the workers.
The Zaman Park area was completely sealed and traffic was closed from Dharmapura to Mall Road. Dolphin Force personnel were present on the opposite side of the Canal Road, dressed in civilian clothes.
The agitators seen in the CCTV footage and photographs will be arrested, the police said.
Identification of workers present at Zaman Park will be conducted and those who attacked the Lahore police and damaged property will be arrested.
Those arrested were transferred to different police stations. Police officials collected plastic bottles, and stones were thrown near Zaman Park and along the canal to potentially use them as evidence against the PTI.
However, videos posted on PTI's official Twitter handle showed police personnel attacking party workers and supporters with batons.
"Worst kind of torture at Zaman Park right now. If something happens, will you paint it as an accident again!?" the video was captioned.
The police officials claimed the PTI workers assaulted them with stones and petrol bombs while they were waiting outside the premises for the PTI’s leadership after arriving at the spot.
Sub-Machine Guns (SMGs) reportedly were also recovered from the premises. The police were checking the status and belonging of such heavy ammunition at Imran's residence. Over 60 suspects reportedly including Imran Khan’s house staff have also been arrested during the operation.
The Lahore police assisted the Islamabad police in executing the arrest warrant but severe resistance was faced, the police said, adding that they were attacked with petrol bombs, beaten with sticks and pelted with stones.
During this time, the people caused the loss of property worth millions of rupees, and Rangers and police vehicles were also vandalised, due to which cases were registered against the miscreants present there.
At the presser, caretaker Punjab Information Minister Amir Mir said that the police took action to clear an area of Lahore which was made a no-go area.
During the news conference, the Punjab IG, giving details, said that according to the order of the high court, the operation was stopped at Zaman Park and then the series of appearances in the high court started. The high court also made it clear that the process of investigation could not be halted at any cost.
On the basis of the court orders, the police, using modern investigation methods, compiled a list of miscreants who came from various places and attacked the police and Ranger teams based on photographs, Safe City camera footage, Geo-fencing, special branch reports and other evidence.
The police teams along with lady officers and personnel, including DIG Operations Lahore, DIG Investigation Lahore and SP Investigation, reached Zaman Park to arrest them. However, despite strong resistance, the police cleared the area and arrested several people.
The Punjab IG said, “I can assure that no innocent person will be arrested. All the people will undergo an identity parade and after comparing it with the scientific evidence as per the court order, they will be presented in the Anti-Terrorism Court.”
IG Punjab said that at around 12 noon, the police obtained a search warrant for the residential part of the house and the lady police along with all the accessories reached the spot and contacted the residents of the house.
It was conveyed that they were not there upon which the police teams had been waiting for them to enter the house according to law, but the miscreants who attacked the police were arrested from where petrol bombs were thrown and stones were pelted with catapults.
At the news conference, the Punjab IG showed the recovered dangerous firearms, bullets, petrol bombs and other items used in the attacks on the police to the media representatives.
The Punjab IG said that despite having the legal right during the entire operation, the police did not fire a single shot, and not even rubber bullets were used. “There are videos of all the arrested persons. Requirements of law and justice will be fulfilled in all cases and the cases registered will be rectified.”
To the questions of the journalists, he said that action will be taken according to the law on the recovered weapons and other goods, making it clear that the prestige and respect of arrested persons will not be undermined.
He said that their prudence and forbearance should not be considered cowardice. For the protection of human lives, police took action with patience, the IGP added.
To another question about holding elections in such conditions, the provincial minister said that the conditions of the entire province were good, only in one corner of Lahore, there was an attempt to worsen the situation, which had been controlled.
Earlier, while in an interview with a private TV channel, Mir said that the situation at Zaman Park had been brought under control.
During the action, he said, the police were fired at and petrol bombs were thrown.
He said that it was decided by the PTI that the leadership would cooperate with the police to comply with the warrants of wanted persons, but that did not happen.
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