Pakistan’s parliament has met for emergency talks as the country’s political crisis continues unabated. Premier Nawaz Sharif is refusing to bow to protester demands for his resignation.
Tuesday’s joint parliamentary session of both houses – the National Assembly and the Senate – in the capital Islamabad is an attempt to rally support behind Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He is facing the biggest threat to his position since taking office a little over a year ago.
Sharif’s office said parliament would be in session all week to discuss the crisis.
The protest movement, led by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan and cleric Tahir ul-Qadri (pictured above), has seen demonstrators camped outside the parliament building in Islamabad since mid-August.
The opposition groups accuse Sharif of huge electoral fraud in parliamenty elections last year, in which his Muslim League won the maximum number of votes. Sharif has refused to step down.
The protests turned violent at the weekend, with three people dead and hundreds injured following clashes between demonstrators and police.
Protesters are now camped out on a lawn in front of the parliament building, after breaking through a fence. They have in effect taken over Constitution Avenue, which runs past Pakistan’s main institutions of power, including the Supreme Court and the prime minister’s office.
Sharif made no remarks in parliament on Tuesday, instead taking notes and listening to speeches. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan lashed out at the protesters.
“This is not a protest, a sit-in or a political gathering. This is a rebellion. It is a rebellion against state institutions. It is a rebellion against the state of Pakistan,” the interior minister said.
Khan and Qadri have frequently urged their supporters to come to the streets and push Sharif from power. Defense Minister Khawaja Asif has said the government is considering taking action, including “selective use of force” and arrests.
Some believe Pakistan’s army is using the events to weaken Sharif, or of even orchestrating the crisis to destabilize civilian rule. The army has denied it had anything to do with the demonstrations, saying it was entirely neutral and apolitical.