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Imran Khan supporters rally in London for ex-Pakistan leader’s release

Imran Khan supporters protest outside Avenfield House, home to former Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif, in London on May 10.

Protesters rallied outside the Pakistani Embassy in London to call for Imran Khan’s release, as the former prime minister’s arrest reverberated across the country’s large overseas population. 

More than 150 people gathered near the Pakistan High Commission on Wednesday, shouting “Long live Imran Khan,” and other messages of support for the jailed cricket star-turned-political leader. Some criticised the government of current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who had travelled to London to attended the coronation of Charles III and was still out of the country at the time of Khan’s arrest Tuesday.

Khan (70) was detained by paramilitary troops on the orders of Pakistan’s anti-corruption bureau, in a dramatic escalation of his power struggle with Pakistani authorities after his ouster last year. The former premier’s popularity has increased in recent months, which included an attack at a November rally that resulted in him being shot in the leg.

Protesters have clashed with authorities in several cities in Pakistan since Khan’s arrest, prompting the army to warn that demonstrators could face “stern action”. The Pakistani rupee dropped 1.9% on Wednesday to close at a record low of 290.22 per dollar.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sidestepped a question Wednesday in Parliament about whether his government would send observers to Pakistan, calling Khan’s arrest an internal matter for the country. “We support peaceful democratic processes and adherence to the rule of law and are monitoring the situation carefully,” Sunak said.

Fazana Mukhtar (50) called on the UK to do more while joining the protest outside the Pakistan High Commission. “Every person should raise his or her voice to condemn this,” she said, adding that events in Pakistan were “not good for the community, they are not good for the country, they are not good for international relationships”.

Several participants at the rally expressed concern about Khan’s safety while in custody. Some accused the government in Islamabad of being corrupt.

“I have never felt this much sadness not being at home,” said one 27-year-old who gave only the name Ayeda. “There is absolute upheaval because one man is truthful. He is honest and millions of people are behind him.”

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