Supporters of former prime minister Imran Khan chant slogans next to burning tyres during a protest against the Election Commission's decision in Hyderabad, Pakistan. File / AP
Former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan on Saturday challenged an election commission ruling disqualifying him from holding public office for five years, his spokesman and lawyer said.
The commission Friday found that Khan illegally sold state gifts and concealed assets as premier. The ruling disqualified Khan under Pakistani law from holding public office for five years and he lost his seat in parliament automatically.
The commission's decision deepened lingering political turmoil in the impoverished Islamic country struggling with a spiraling economy, food shortages and the aftermath of unprecedented floods this summer that killed 1,725 people, displaced hundreds of thousands and triggered a surge in malaria and other flood-related diseases.
The announcement by the commission came as Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in the parliament in April, has been rallying supporters against the new government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif and calling for early elections.
Protesters briefly clashed with police Friday outside the capital of Islamabad. Later, Khan urged supporters to disperse peacefully and wait for his call for a march on Islamabad.
Sharif, in a news conference in the eastern city of Lahore on Saturday, called Khan a "certified thief” in reference to the election commission's decision against him and said the government will not let his supporters storm the capital.
Fawad Chaudhry, a spokesman for Khan, said a petition challenging Khan's disqualification was filed in Islamabad High Court seeking an urgent hearing.
Khan's attorney, Ali Zafar, said he was hopeful the court will quash the election commission verdict.
The commission’s decision followed a petition from Sharif’s coalition government seeking action against Khan over allegations that he unlawfully sold state gifts. In Pakistan, government leaders are allowed to buy back gifts, but they are not usually sold. If they are, individuals must declare that as income.
Khan, who came to power in 2018, was ousted in April this year through a no-confidence vote in parliament but he alleged without providing evidence that his government was toppled by Sharif as part of a U.S. plot - claims that both the premier and Washington have denied.
Also Saturday, Khan told reporters at his residence in Islamabad that next Friday he will announce when to start his long march on Islamabad.
Senator Azam Swati was sitting with Khan who was released from prison after court order his release on bail. Swati was arrested on Oct. 13 and allegedly stripped and tortured for tweeting about the country’s army chief.
Swati stressed that judiciary should take notice of the torture and parliamentarian and lawyers community should raise voice against human rights violation.
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Cities around Pakistan came to a standstill on Friday as tens of thousands of people poured onto the streets in a government-led demonstration of solidarity with the disputed region of Kashmir, after India revoked its autonomy this month.
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