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Pakistani opposition clashes with police

by SALMAN MASOOD New York Times News Service on August 31, 2014 1:09 AM

ISLAMABAD — Clashes broke out in the Pakistani capital Saturday night after thousands of protesters led by two opposition leaders tried to march toward the residence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The two opposition leaders, Imran Khan, a charismatic former cricket star, and Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, an influential cleric, said they planned to protest outside the prime minister’s home, which is on a hill overlooking the capital. Armed with sticks and batons, many wearing gas masks, the protesters tried to break through police cordons and attempted to remove shipping containers, which had blocked a road leading to the prime minister’s house, with the help of a big crane.

Thousands of protesters have been camping out in Islamabad since two leading opposition politicians, Khan and Qadri, led two marches on the capital from Lahore. They have been demanding Sharif’s resignation and the dissolution of the national and provincial assemblies. Khan is demanding new elections; Qadri wants an interim unity government to run the country as well as ambitious economic and political overhauls.

The government has agreed to consider changes to the country’s contentious electoral system and initiate an independent investigation into allegations of rigging in last year’s general elections, one of Khan’s criticisms of Sharif. But ruling party members say their opponents need to drop their demands for Sharif’s resignation.

Sharif said Saturday that he would not resign and called the demands to do so by his opponents “unacceptable” and “unconstitutional.”

The marches came after talks broke down between the government and representatives of Khan and Qadri.

“Nawaz Sharif should step down as prime minister to take the country out of this deadlock,” Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a senior leader of Khan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, told local news media late Saturday. “We want to break the political impasse. The sticking point is prime minister’s resignation.”

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