Negotiators meet in Pakistan over mass rallies

 

The Associated Press

Negotiators for thousands of protesters demonstrating outside of Pakistan's parliament met Wednesday with politicians trying to end the crisis, but key challenges appear to remain — including their demand that the prime minster resign.

Anti-government protesters converged on Islamabad more than two weeks ago, demanding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif step down. The twin protests are led by opposition politician Imran Khan and fiery cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri.

The negotiations Wednesday signified a possible easing of tensions after violent clashes between demonstrators and police in the capital, Islambad. But similar attempts to negotiate an end to the crisis have failed to make progress.

A group of politicians met separately Wednesday with representatives from both Qadri and Khan. In a news conference, one of the politicians, Sirajul Haq, said there had been some success in their talks, although he urged caution.

"I can say that there's a lot hope for the things to be solved," he said.

The politicians are all from the opposition, not the government, so any agreement they come up with would not necessarily be binding. However, representatives from Khan's camp said they also expected to meet later Wednesday with negotiators from the government.

Khan and Qadri have similar goals and their protests have been held side by side though their movements are separate.

Speaking later to his followers, Qadri said he was standing firm on his demand that the prime minister resign, something Sharif has vowed he would not do. But in a conciliatory sign, Qadri asked his followers to move back from the lawn in front of parliament where they have been camped since protesters broke through the fence surrounding the parliament on Saturday.

Khan has yet to publicly speak about the negotiations.

The protesters converged on Islamabad on Aug. 14, demanding that the prime minister step down over allegations that he and his party rigged the May 2013 elections that brought him to power. International observers found no indication of widespread fraud.

The demonstrations have mostly been peaceful, though they took a violent turn this weekend when clashes between police and protesters killed three people and wounded some 400.

The demonstrations have weakened Sharif's government and projected an image of a capital in crisis. But the prime minister got a big boost on Tuesday in an emergency session of parliament during which lawmakers generally criticized the protesters' demands as unconstitutional and vowed to support the embattled premier.

The protesters' have failed to reach the massive numbers they have promised. Initially both Khan and Qadri vowed a million people would take to the streets but the biggest the protests have gotten has been in the tens of thousands. In recent days the numbers appear to have dwindled to a few thousand who come to hear Khan and Qadri speak in the evening.

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