Pakistan's top Opposition leader and PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif was arrested by the country's anti-graft body on Monday after a court rejected his bail plea in a money laundering case.
The development comes just ahead of the planned protests next month by his party - the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) - to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Shahbaz, the Leader of the Opposition and the younger brother of three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was taken into custody from the Lahore High Court's premises, where a large number of the PML-N workers gathered ahead of the hearing in the Rs 700 crores (USD 41.9 million) money laundering case.
The anti-graft body - National Accountability Bureau (NAB) - took him to its Lahore's detention centre and will produce him to the accountability court for his physical remand.
Earlier, a two-member LHC bench headed by Sardar Ahemd Naeem rejected his bail after hearing the arguments from the NAB''s team and Shahbaz's lawyer.
The Imran Khan government last week filed the money laundering case against 69-year-old Shahbaz, who served as chief minister of Punjab province from 2008 to 2018, and his family.
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Interior and Accountability Shahzad Akbar last week alleged that Shahbaz and his sons - Hamza and Salman - were involved in money laundering through fake accounts.
Akbar said the financial monitoring unit had detected 177 suspicious transactions of Shahbaz' family after which NAB started a probe.
He alleged that crores of rupees were laundered through employees of the companies owned by Shahbaz and his children.
Akbar accused Shahbaz and Hamza of taking kickbacks and commissions in return for party tickets and projects to favourites.
Before his arrest, Shahbaz told the media that Prime Minister Khan wanted to have him arrested.
"It is the unholy alliance of Imran Khan and NAB that wanted to put me behind bars," Shahbaz said.
Reacting to his arrest, PML-N spokesperson Maryam Nawaz said Shahbaz has been arrested only because he did not leave his elder brother.
Alleging that it was a political victimisation by the government, she said, "This politics of vengence cannot dampen the spirits of our workers."
Pakistan People's Party Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari condemned Shehbaz''s arrest, saying that Prime Minister Khan was worried after the opposition parties launched an alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement, to oust his government.
The Opposition was anticipating strong reaction from the government following Nawaz Sharif's attack on the military in the multi-party conference over a week ago.
Sharif while addressing the conference via video link from London talked about the Army's involvement in politics, saying in the country "there is a state above the state."
The powerful Army, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 70 plus years of existence, has hitherto wielded considerable power in the matters of security and foreign policy.
Mr Khan said that the joint Opposition's struggle is not against Khan but against those who imposed an "inefficient" man on the nation through a rigged elections in 2018."
Sharif, his daughter and party vice president Maryam and son-in-law Muhammad Safdar were convicted in the Avenfield properties case on July 6, 2018.
Sharif, who was deposed in 2017, was also sentenced to seven years in the Al-Azizia Steel Mills case in December 2018. But, he was bailed out in both cases and also allowed to go to London for medical treatment. He was given eight weeks to return but failed to come back due to health complications.
The Opposition is anticipating more arrests. The NAB has already issued a call up notice to JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman who is also leading the joint opposition's campaign against the government in income beyond means case.
Pakistan's major opposition parties have demanded "immediate" resignation of Prime Minister Khan and planned countrywide protests next month to oust his government.