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Imran Khan calls for nationwide ‘freedom’ protests

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Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan called for nationwide “freedom” protests on Sunday, after his brief arrest and detention last week triggered deadly unrest.

The one-time cricket superstar, who has been tied up in dozens of legal cases since being ousted from power in April last year, was freed on bail on Friday after his detention was declared unlawful by the Supreme Court.

Enraged by the arrest, supporters set fire to government buildings, blocked roads and damaged property belonging to the military, which they blame for Khan’s downfall, AFP reported.

“Freedom does not come easily. You have to snatch it. You have to sacrifice for it,” he said in an address broadcast on YouTube Saturday night.

He called for supporters to hold protests “at the end of your streets and villages” across the country on Sunday evening for one hour.

After five days of tumult across Pakistan, Sunday morning was quiet, but Khan has also pledged to return to campaigning on Wednesday for immediate elections.

For months, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party leader has waged a campaign of defiance against the military.

His arrest on Tuesday came just hours after he was rebuked for claiming senior officials were involved in an assassination attempt against him last year.

Pakistan’s powerful military has directly ruled the country off and on for nearly half of its 75-year history, and continues to wield power over the political system, AFP reported.

“The army chief’s actions have made our military bad. It is because of him, not because of me,” Khan said from his home in Lahore, although it was unclear whether he meant the serving chief, or his predecessor, whom Khan held responsible for his ouster.

He previously told reporters that “one man, the army chief” was behind his arrest.

But Khan distanced himself from the attacks against the military’s installations at the protests, denying his party workers were involved and calling for an independent investigation into the violence.

The army, which denies the accusations made by Khan, on Saturday warned against attempts to create “misperceptions” against the institution.

‘Anti-state behavior’

At least nine people died in the unrest last week, police and hospitals have said.

Hundreds of police officers were injured and more than 4,000 people detained, mostly in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, according to authorities.

At least 10 senior PTI leaders have been arrested since the protests began, one of Khan’s lawyers said.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the head of a shaky coalition, on Saturday warned that those involved in “facilitating, abetting and perpetrating” the violence should be arrested within 72 hours.

“Those who demonstrated anti-state behavior will be arrested and tried in anti-terrorist courts,” he said during a visit to Lahore.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah has repeatedly vowed that police will re-arrest Khan, who remains wildly popular ahead of elections due in October, AFP reported.

The Islamabad High Court ruled that Khan should be given protection from arrest until Monday.

Regional

Nine Hindu pilgrims dead in India’s Jammu after militant attack, police say

At least nine people were killed and 33 injured when a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims plunged into a deep gorge after a suspected militant attack in the Indian federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday, police said.

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At least nine people were killed and 33 injured when a bus carrying Hindu pilgrims plunged into a deep gorge after a suspected militant attack in the Indian federal territory of Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday, police said.

News of the attack came as Narendra Modi took oath as prime minister for a record-equalling third term and drew criticism from the main opposition Congress party, Reuters reported.

“This shameful incident is the true picture of the worrying security situation in Jammu and Kashmir,” opposition leader Rahul Gandhi said on X.

“Militants ambushed the bus” – opposition leader

The Himalayan region, which is also claimed by Pakistan, has been roiled by militant violence since the start of an anti-Indian insurgency in 1989. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, although violence has tapered off in recent years.

“Militants ambushed the bus and fired at it indiscriminately. The bus fell into a gorge, leading to the death of 9 pilgrims, and 33 are injured,” said Mohita Sharma, district police chief of Reasi.

The last major attack on Hindu pilgrims in the region happened in 2017 when a bus was targeted, killing eight people, read the report.

Sunday’s attack comes a day after police chief RR Swain said the number of local militants in the territory was dropping but 70-80 foreign militants remained active.

The injured have been moved to nearby hospitals and a search for the attackers has been launched, police said in a statement.

A state official earlier said at least 10 pilgrims were feared dead.

A forensic official inspects the bus that plunged into a gorge after being shot at by suspected militants. Photo AP

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Pakistan’s army says bomb blast kills seven soldiers

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A bomb blast targeting a military truck killed seven soldiers on Sunday in northwestern Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan, the army said.

The incident took place in the Lakki Marwat district which is on the edge of a lawless tribal region divided on both sides of the border, Reuters reported.

The improvised explosive device exploded near the military vehicle, killing seven soldiers including an officer, the army said in a statement.

“The perpetrators of this heinous act will be brought to justice,” it said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, read the report.

The tribal region has long been a safe haven for Islamist militants who operate on both sides of the border.

An umbrella group of Islamist and sectarian militant groups called Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been waging a war against the state to try to overthrow the government. It wants to run Pakistan as an Islamic state governed by its own harsh interpretation of Islam, read the report.

Islamabad says the TTP leaders have taken refuge in neighbouring Afghanistan, where they run camps to train Islamist militants to launch attacks inside Pakistan.

Kabul has previously said rising violence in Pakistan is a domestic issue for Islamabad.

Relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan have soured in recent months. Islamabad says Kabul is not doing enough to tackle militant groups targeting Pakistan.

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Iran announces list of six approved candidates for June 28 elections

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Iran’s Guardian Council, a 12-member election supervisory body, has finalized the list of candidates for president and submitted it to the Interior Ministry, Mohsen Eslami, the spokesperson for Iran’s Election Headquarters, confirmed.

According to IRNA, the council finalized the candidate list for the 14th presidential election on Sunday.

Six candidates have been named. They are Mostafa Pourmohammadi, Massoud Pezeshkian, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh, Alireza Zakani, Saeed Jalili, and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.

Elections have been called for June 28 and come in the wake of president Ebrahim Raisi’s death in a helicopter crash on May 19.

Head of parliament, Qalibaf, 62, who is a former military commander, has been seen as a potential front-runner. In a speech last week, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei seemed to signal his support for Qalibaf, analysts have said.

The council also approved the candidacies of lawmaker Pezeshkian; Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator and Khamenei’s representative on the Supreme National Security Council; Tehran Mayor Zakani; Ghazizadeh, a conservative deputy to Raisi; and Pourmohammadi, a former interior and justice minister.

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