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Political Crisis in Pak Deepens, Govt's Dialogue With Protesters Stalled

Sajjad Hussain/Islamabad
File-AP Photo/Sang Tan

Pakistan's political crisis deepened today as dialogue between protesters headed by Imran Khan and cleric Tahirul Qadri and the government broke down but Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ruled out any crackdown on the siege of Parliament.

The fragile dialogue between the government and protesters that had yesterday raised hopes of resolution of the political crisis made no headway today as Pakiatan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Tahirul Qadri also refused to meet the government's negotiating team.

After briefly relenting late last night, opposition leader and chief of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Khan withdrew from talks and declared that he would continue the protest "till the end."

Prime Minister Sharif, during a meeting with senior journalists, said if the government accepts the demands of PTI and PAT the country will face numerous challenges, Express News reported.

"Out of 12 political parties in the Parliament, 11 are supporting the government," Sharif said.

"We respect people's mandate. We can't even imagine using force against dharnas. We are ready to hold talks," he said.

In a significant development, the Pakistan Supreme Court today rejected the government's plea for an order for the eviction of protesters besieging the Parliament, saying it is an administrative matter and should be dealt with in accordance with the law.

Emboldened by the court's stand, Khan stepped up pressure on the Sharif-led government, announcing that he would not talk to the government until the Prime Minister resigns and called for a nationwide protest.

A visibly charged Khan this afternoon called on his supporters to expand the civil disobedience movement into all the provinces.

"It is our democratic right to protest...We are not breaking any laws. I request the Supreme Court to have these containers removed so that life can return to normal," said Khan, addressing his supporters camped outside the parliament.

"The talks with the government are over. How can these talks proceed when we first want resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif?" Khan said.

Khan asked his supporters from all provinces to converge in Islamabad. He vowed to fight "until the last ball".

Today was the eighth day of the Khan-led movement against Sharif, a campaign that has partially paralysed life in the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi as containers and police personnel guard state buildings against protesters.

Although, Khan is unflinching in his demand for the premier's resignation, observers said the party chairman has "no option left" as his earlier calls for a civil disobedience movement and the mass resignation of.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan today removed Inspector General of Police (IGP) Islamabad Aftab Cheema from his position. DIG Headquarters Khalid Khattak has been appointed the acting IGP.

Khan alleged that Cheema was removed because he refused to give orders of baton-charging protesters.

Amid speculation that the government might crackdown on protesters, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said that no action had been carried out against PTI and PAT protesters in Islamabad and this trend is going to continue.

He said no such step had been taken by the government which could be termed as a reason for suspending negotiations.

Senior PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the decision to suspend talks had been conveyed to Governor Punjab Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar and it was taken because the government's actions were opposite to their dialogue call.

"Police has begun crackdown against PTI workers and is once again blocking roads in Islamabad," he said.

Development minister Ahsan Iqbal told media that second round of negotiations with Khan's team was scheduled at 1 pm.

"We waited for them but they did not turn up for talks," he said.

Qadri, whose thousands of supporters have combined with Khan's supporters, stayed put in the 'Red Zone'.

The anti-government protesters are still camping outside the Parliament in the 'Red Zone' where important government buildings including the Parliament House, Prime Minister House, President House, the Supreme Court besides the embassies are housed.

A five-member government team had met with a six-member committee of Khan's party late last night but the two sides failed to make any headway.

The first round of talks between the government and Qadri-led PAT also could not make progress as the cleric's representatives demanded Sharif's resignation.

Khan, in his speech today criticised the US for its statement against "any extra-constitutional changes" in Pakistan, saying it is adopting a different policy for the country over poll rigging.

"Why the United States is following a different policy for Pakistan when it would never accept election results in their own country if there had been rigging," he said.

Khan and Qadri have both alleged rigging in the polls last year and called for a re-election. In the elections, Sharif's PML-N had won 190 out of 342 seats. Khan's PTI got 34 seats, the third largest bloc in the legislature.

Pakistan's National Assembly today unanimously passed a resolution rejecting the anti-government protesters' demand for Sharif's resignation and dissolution of the Parliament.

The army had earlier asked all stakeholders in the crisis to hold "meaningful" talks to end the crisis.

The army, which has so far been passive in the confrontation between the government and protesters, has a history of capturing power from democratically elected governments.

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PEOPLE: Nawaz Sharif
PLACES: Pakistan
SECTION: International
OUTLOOK 21 August, 2014
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