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Pakistan Arrests Former Prime Minister in Anticorruption Sweep

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A former prime minister of Pakistan was arrested on Thursday, as the government escalated what it describes as an anticorruption campaign and opposition parties have denounced as a political vendetta.

The former leader, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who remains a senior figure in the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, was arrested at a highway toll plaza while on his way to a party news conference in the city of Lahore, and presented with a warrant accusing him of involvement in “corruption and corrupt practices.” The authorities did not immediately offer more details.

The current prime minister, Imran Khan, who won last year’s general elections on a strong anticorruption platform, has repeatedly vowed that he will arrest politicians involved in corrupt practices. Opposition figures have accused him of using the anticorruption campaign to distract from his handling of Pakistan’s economic difficulties, troubles for which he blames previous governments.

Mr. Abbasi is a loyalist of the ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif. He was named prime minister in August 2017 after Mr. Sharif was disqualified by the Supreme Court following a corruption inquiry, and held that office until May 2018.

Mr. Khan’s government is grappling with soaring inflation, a crippling balance of payments crisis, a depreciating currency and low exports. The country recently accepted a $6 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund. As part of that process, the government has drastically cut back on subsidies and has increased direct and indirect taxes. Pakistan’s central bank raised its main interest rate this week to 13.25 percent from 12.25 percent.

Inflation has caused public unease, and the government’s efforts to increase its tax base are facing resistance. Last week, traders across the country held a strike to protest the austerity measures.

Shahbaz Sharif, the top leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the opposition leader in the National Assembly, said at a news conference on Thursday that Mr. Abbasi’s arrest meant that most of the party’s leadership had been jailed by the anticorruption authorities.

“This is the worst kind of political vendetta against Pakistan Muslim League in the name of accountability,” he said.

Asif Ali Zardari, a former president of Pakistan from a rival opposition group, the Pakistan Peoples Party, was arrested by the anticorruption authorities last month in a money-laundering investigation.

Government officials have dismissed the allegations of political victimization.

“Opposition politicians should give proofs of their innocence in the courts,” said Firdous Ashiq Awan, an assistant Mr. Khan who acts as a de facto information minister. “The courts are free and independent in the country.”


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