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Pakistani government ‘open for talks’ as protests turn deadly

Pakistani government ‘open for talks’ as protests turn deadly

Several people have died and hundreds were wounded as anti-government demonstrators clashed with riot police in Islamabad. Pakistan’s government says it is open to renewing talks with its opponents to end the violence.
At least three people were killed as clashes continued in the Pakistani capital through Sunday morning. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters attempting to march on the official residence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Violence erupted overnight when thousands of protesters stormed police barricades set up around the parliament building and adjacent residence. The clashes signal an escalation in Pakistan’s two-week political crisis.
Medical sources have said at least three people have been killed and more than 300, including children and police officers, were injured. Islamabad police chief Khalid Khattak said opposition demonstrators were equipped with large hammers, wire cutters, axes and a crane.
Since mid-August, thousands of followers of former cricket hero-turned politician Imran Khan and controversial cleric Tahir ul-Qadri have been camped outside the prime minister’s residence, calling for him to step down. They accuse Sharif of rigging the parliamentary election that brought him into office in June 2013.
“I will not leave my people alone and keep fighting until we secure a real independence for Pakistan,” Khan told his supporters on Saturday, tweeting a photo of himself standing on a shipping container.
Government open to negotiations
Sharif has repeatedly said he will not resign, while government negotiators have tried to convince Qadri and Khan to end the protests.
Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said Sunday the government was now trying to re-open negotiations with the opposition groups to resolve the situation peacefully.
“The government did not initiate the clashes. They turned violent and tried to enter sensitive government buildings, which are the symbol of the state,” he told the private Geo News television channel.
“They wanted their demands to be met at gunpoint but still, our doors are open for talks.”
The clashes come just days after Prime Minister Sharif formally requested his country’s powerful army chief, Raheel Sharif, to mediate an end to the standoff.
Political commentator Mosharraf Zaidi said the protests had become difficult to contain, and that the opposition may be trying to get the army – which has ruled Pakistan for most of its existence – to step in directly.
“The single objective is to force Sharif to resign and possibly force the military to intervene,” he said.

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