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Talks resume to end Pakistan protests

Imran Khan's party says it is holding talks with government aimed at ending protests, a day after suspending them.

Last updated: 22 Aug 2014 20:59
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Khan's supporters have called for Sharif to resign, accusing the prime minister of rigging elections in 2013 [EPA]

The party of Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan has said it was resuming talks with the government aimed at ending tense protests, even as it submitted the resignations of 34 of its politicians from parliament.

Khan and populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri have led thousands of supporters demonstrating outside the legislature this week calling for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to go.

Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party said dialogue, which was suspended on Thursday, was restarting through contact with the governor of Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province, after calling off the talks a day earlier with the insistence that Sharif resign first.

"We are resuming talks with the government," PTI vice-chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the AFP news agency.

Khan insists the May 2013 general election, which swept Sharif to power in a landslide, was rigged, though observers rated it free and credible.

"According to the decision of the PTI's core committee, the resignations of our members have been submitted today," Qureshi told reporters. PTI is the third largest party in the National Assembly with 34 seats.

Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) party says he will not quit and accuse the protesters of undermining the country's fragile democracy.

Qureshi also submitted the resignations of its politicians in the National Assembly, the lower house of the federal parliament, on Friday.

Parliamentary speaker Ayaz Sadiq told private television channel Geo he had already left for the day when Qureshi delivered the letters of resignation to his office, but would open them and verify the contents on Monday, ultimately triggering by-elections unless they are withdrawn.

Fears of military intervention

The standoff has raised fears of possible military intervention - the country has seen three coups since its creation in 1947 - though analysts say the army is more likely to use the crisis to assert influence behind the scenes than stage an outright power grab.

Senior members of Qadri's team have said they are ready for "meaningful dialogue" to end their protest, though little concrete progress appears to have been made since initial contact began on Wednesday.

The two protest movements are not formally allied and have different goals, beyond toppling the government. But their combined pressure - and numbers - have given extra heft to the rallies.

If one group were to reach a settlement with the government and withdraw, the other's position would be significantly weakened.

Neither movement has mobilised mass support beyond their core followers and opposition parties have shunned Khan's call to unseat the government and begin a campaign of civil disobedience.

Maulana Fazalur Rehman, chief of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party said the protests had no support from the majority of Pakistan's 180 million population.

"They have been isolated and people of Pakistan have rejected them - there are maximum 5,000 to 6,000 people combined with them at night," he told AFP.

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