Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan’s parliament has closed ranks behind Nawaz Sharif, reaffirming support for his role as prime minister and for the country’s constitution, as protests against his government entered their 20th day.
Addressing a joint session of the national assembly and Senate on Tuesday, Chaudhry Nisar Ali, the interior minister, called on the parliament to jointly term the protesters “rebels”.
“This is not a protest, or a sit-in, or a political meeting. It is a rebellion against the state,” he said. “They are not revolutionaries, they are terrorists.”
This is not a protest, or a sit-in, or a political meeting. It is a rebellion against the State. They are not revolutionaries, they are terrorists.
Metres away from the parliament building, a protest sit-in against Sharif’s rule continued, as more than a thousand supporters of politician Imran Khan and anti-government cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri continued their call for him to resign due to allegations of poll rigging and perceived government inefficacy.
Opposition leaders Aitzaz Ahsan, Mahmud Khan Achakzai and others also addressed parliament on Tuesday, reaffirming support for the prime minister.
“The opposition parties are standing with democracy and the constitution […] although this is very difficult for us after what you have done to our party workers,” said Ahsan, the leader of the opposition in the Senate.
Thousands of supporters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) have been occupying the grounds of parliament and the roads outside it since Saturday night, when violence broke out between them and police. They have been protesting against Sharif’s government since August 14.
Since Saturday, at least three people have been killed and more than 595 injured in clashes between protesters and police, hospital authorities confirm. More than 115 of the injured are policemen, they said.
Khan wants the appointment of a caretaker government under which elections will be held, while Qadri wants a “national government” of technocrats to be appointed, led by him, who would then rewrite the country’s constitution.
Differences have also emerged within Khan’s party over the issue of the overthrow of the government.
Javed Hashmi, the president of the PTI, addressed parliament on Tuesday, the only member of his party to attend the session. The PTI’s 34 parliamentarians submitted their resignations, yet to be accepted, on August 22.
“This parliament should be made an effective parliament, where people’s problems are solved,” said an impassioned Hashmi, who said that he had also advised Khan that parliament’s standing should not be undermined.
Nevertheless, Hashmi announced his resignation from his seat in the national assembly, in line with his party’s position.
Khan, meanwhile, has remained firm that he will not leave until Sharif resigns.
Sharif did not speak to parliament on Tuesday, but has been adamant that he would not resign.
Repeated negotiations between the two sides have broken down since the crisis began. Khan was due to meet Islamist politician Siraj-ul-Haq on Tuesday to discuss the prospect of restarting talks with the government.
Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter: @AsadHashim