ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan said Friday he was pausing his march on the capital, Islamabad, a day a gunman opened fire on his campaign convoy, wounding him and killing one of his supporters. Thirteen other people were also hurt in the attack.
Khan spoke to reporters late on Friday – his first public remarks since the shooting – and pledged that he will resume his protest once he has recovered from the bullet wound. The bullet hit him in the right leg, above the ankle.
Khan’s protest march and rallies, which started last Friday, were peaceful until Thursday’s attack in Wazirabad, a district in eastern Punjab province. The shooting has raised concerns about growing political instability in Pakistan, which has a history of political violence and assassinations.
“As soon as I recover, I have decided that I will be back on the streets and (I) will issue the call for a (march on) Islamabad,” Khan said, adding that he knew he could be targeted in an attack.
Sitting in a wheelchair, his right leg bandaged and elevated on a stool, Khan spoke from the Shaukat Khanum hospital, where he had surgery on Thursday night. TV cameras carried his remarks live.
Khan accused Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan and army Gen. Faisal Naseer working for the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency of orchestrating the shooting. The minister and the former premier are not related.
Khan offered no evidence for his allegations, which were rejected by Sharif’s government and dismissed as a “pack of lies” by Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb. The spy agency said there was absolutely no truth to Khan’s allegations. The military said it has requested legal action against those defaming the army and senior officers with “baseless allegations” devoid of any evidence.
The government says it has ordered a high-level probe. The shooter, who was arrested at the scene of the attack, was still being questioned Friday, police said. On Thursday, local police officials released a video showing the man who says in the footage that he carried out the shooting and acted alone.
Among the 13 wounded were two lawmakers from his Tehreek-e-Insaf party. Ghazanfar Ali, a district police chief in Wazirabad, identified the slain man as Mozzam Gondal, who was buried on Friday.
Earlier, Fawad Chaudhry, a senior leader from Khan’s party, said the party’s leadership had “no doubt” the attacker targeted Khan.
“We are convinced that it was a well-planned assassination attempt on Pakistan’s most popular leader,” he said.
Khan, a former cricket star-turned-politician, was traveling in a large protest convoy of trucks and cars toward Islamabad when the attack happened. Video footage from Thursday shows him and his team ducking for cover on top of a vehicle as gunfire rings out.
The interior minister said some political elements from Khan’s party were trying to create chaos in the country following the attack.
It was not immediately clear if Khan’s decision to pause his march on Islamabad would defuse tensions. Security has been heightened in Islamabad ahead of the anticipated arrival of Khan’s convoy in the Pakistani capital.
Scores of Khan’s supporters demonstrated in various parts of the country following the attack. Some chanted slogans against the military and vowed to avenge the shooting. The interior minister called the alleged gunman a “religious extremist” who had accused the ex-premier of comparing himself to prophets in recent public remarks.
However, in his remarks, Khan claimed more than one shooter was involved in the attack, also allegations that have not been confirmed by authorities. He also said, without elaborating, that he knew beforehand he could be targeted by someone after accusing him of blasphemy.
On Friday, in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, a group of Khan’s supporters heading toward nearby Islamabad pelted police with stones. Officers used batons and fired tear gas to disperse them. Police detained some demonstrators near Islamabad.
In the eastern city of Lahore, Khan’s supporters damaged the main gate of the governor’s office. And in the southern port city of Karachi, where Sharif’s allies are in power, hundreds of Khan’s supporters clashed with police.
Khan, 70, maintains that his April ouster in a no-confidence vote in Parliament was unlawful and a conspiracy by his political opponents orchestrated by the United States, a charge denied by both Washington and Sharif.
He wants the government to announce early elections. His protest convoy started from Lahore last Friday with Khan and thousands of his supporters – in trucks, cars or on foot – marching toward Islamabad for what was to be an open-ended rally until his demands were met, according to Khan’s earlier statements.
Sharif’s government says elections will take place as scheduled, in 2023.
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