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Pakistan politicians seek negotiated settlement to crisis

Updated: 2014-09-04 07:09
By Reuters in Islamabad (China Daily)

Rival Pakistani politicians explored on Wednesday the possibility of a negotiated solution to weeks of protests aimed at the removal of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Thousands had tried to storm Sharif's house in protests led by former cricket star Imran Khan and firebrand cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, destabilizing the nation.

But by Wednesday, only a few hundred people were camped out outside parliament in the high-security Red Zone area in the center of the capital, Islamabad, with the army protecting key government installations.

Sharif has refused to step down, while protest leaders have rejected his calls to come to the negotiating table, creating a dangerous deadlock and prompting fears the military might seize power.

But in the latest twist, Khan and Qadri agreed to talk to a committee of opposition politicians seeking to mediate between the government and the protesters and help find a political solution.

"The entire nation is disturbed by the ongoing crisis," said Siraj-ul-Haq, a conservative Islamist politician leading the mediation effort. Khan's party "has accepted our request (to hold talks) with an open heart and we are thankful to them".

The crisis has taken many turns since protests broke out in mid-August and most commentators said it was too early to say whether a negotiated solution was in sight.

Second fiddle

Violent scenes in the usually quiet capital have alarmed many people in a nation where power has often changed hands though military coups, with some officials accusing the military of orchestrating the protests as a way of sidelining or even toppling Sharif - a charge the military denies.

Few commentators think the army is bent on seizing power again, but even if Sharif were to survive, he would emerge significantly weakened and would play second fiddle to the army on key security and foreign policy issues.

On Tuesday, parliament threw its weight behind Sharif, who has convened a joint session of the chamber, where he has enjoyed a solid majority since last year's landslide election victory.

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