U.S. officials pull Imran Khan off plane

NEW YORK Sat Oct 27, 2012 11:03pm IST

Imran Khan, cricketer-turned-politician and head of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), wears a traditional turban as his supporters shout slogans and throw rose petals as he leads a peace march against U.S. drone strikes from Islamabad to South Waziristan, in Musa Khel, located in the province of Punjab October 6, 2012. REUTERS/Saad Arsalan

Imran Khan, cricketer-turned-politician and head of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), wears a traditional turban as his supporters shout slogans and throw rose petals as he leads a peace march against U.S. drone strikes from Islamabad to South Waziristan, in Musa Khel, located in the province of Punjab October 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Saad Arsalan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Pakistani politician Imran Kahn, a vocal critic of U.S. drone strikes, was briefly delayed and questioned by U.S. immigration officials in Toronto before being allowed to board a flight to New York, prompting his party to demand an apology from Washington.

Khan told his followers on Twitter that he was detained and interrogated Friday about his views on drones.

A State Department official confirmed Khan had been briefly detained, but said the former Pakistani cricket star was later released to go the United States. "The issue was resolved and Mr. Khan is welcome in the United States," the official said.

Ali Zaidi, senior vice president of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, demanded an apology from U.S. authorities for their two-hour questioning of Khan and his traveling companions, as well as a thorough investigation.

The State Department gave no details about why Khan was detained. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency said it was prohibited from discussing specific cases.

Khan, who led a protest march to northern Pakistan this month to protest U.S. drone strikes, vowed to continue opposing the deadly attacks. "Nothing will change my stance," he said.

"I was taken off from plane and interrogated by U.S. Immigration in Canada on my views on drones. My stance is known. Drone attacks must stop," Khan tweeted on Friday afternoon.

Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party said the politician arrived safely in New York on Friday, the first day of the Muslim Eid-al-Adha holiday, after the delay at the Toronto airport and went directly to a fundraising lunch.

Zaidi, of the party, said the incident violated ethical and diplomatic norms and the Pakistani government should complain to the U.S. embassy in Islamabad.

Calling Khan "a celebrated national hero" and a "global icon of colossal stature," Zaidi wrote on the party's website that to "subject him to such clumsy and vicious treatment speaks volumes about the exasperation induced in the American ranks by his heroic and patriotic-minded opposition to the drone program."

In an email, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency declined to comment on the case, but said travelers who wanted to enter the United States bore the burden of proof to establish that they were eligible for admission, and that included overcoming "ALL grounds of inadmissibility."

Pakistani authorities earlier this month stopped a protest led by Khan from entering the troubled region of South Waziristan, a tribal area frequently hit by drone strikes.

Khan blames the Pakistan government for allowing the United States to operate in the country, and has said he will order the Pakistani air force to shoot the unmanned planes down if he wins next year's elections in Pakistan.

Earlier this month, Khan led a march to northern Pakistan to protest the drone strikes, which have killed between 2,600 and 3,400 Pakistanis, according to the independent London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Some Pakistanis say Khan is fanning anti-American sentiment to bolster his political career and criticize him for refusing to condemn atrocities by the Taliban or Pakistani army.

Others praise him for reaching out to Pakistan's northern tribal areas and say he is standing up for a war-ravaged population ignored by mainstream politicians.

The United States says the strikes have killed top Taliban and al Qaeda commanders and that civilian casualties are minimal. But it has not said how targets are selected or how the military determines whether the dead were fighters or civilians.

(Reporting by Katherine Houreld in Islamad and Andrea Shalal-Esa in Washington; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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