Supporters of Tahir ul-Qadri, Sufi cleric and leader of
political party Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), carry sticks
as they move towards the Prime Minister's house during the
Revolution March in Islamabad. Photo by Reuters
Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan called on more of
his supporters to take to the streets and stand up to security
forces, after weeks of protests demanding Prime Minister Nawaz
Sharif's resignation turned violent.
Peaceful anti-government demonstrations spilled over into
deadly confrontation overnight after thousands of protesters
tried to storm Sharif's residence. Police responded with
teargas and rubber bullets. At least three people were killed
and 200 wounded, hospital officials said.
Activists demanding Sharif's resignation have camped outside
government offices for more than two weeks but it was the
first time violence broke out as protesters, some armed with
sticks and wearing gas masks, tried to break through police
Army chiefs held an emergency meeting in the garrison city of
Rawalpindi on Sunday night (local time) to discuss the
crisis, prompting speculation that the military could take
decisive action to end the crisis in a democracy where power
has usually changed hands via coups rather than elections.
Small skirmishes continued into Sunday (local time), with
police occasionally firing teargas. The atmosphere remained
tense, with thousands of people still massing outside
parliament. Smaller protests were also reported in the city
of Lahore, Sharif's power base.
Khan, a renowned cricketer before entering politics, called
on more protesters to join him and to prepare for a second
night of trouble.
"I am prepared to die here. I have learnt that government
plans a major crackdown against us tonight," he said. "I am
here till my last breath."
Khan told the cheering crowd to challenge security forces
protecting the parliament and the prime minister's house.
"The way you stood up last night, you have to stand up today
also," he said. "We will face them and make them run away
How the crisis ends ultimately lies in the military's hands
in a country ruled by generals for half of its entire
Sharif, who swept to office last year in Pakistan's first
democratic transition of power, has resisted calls to resign
while agreeing to meet other demands such as an investigation
into suspicions of fraud during last year's election.
His office reiterated on Sunday evening that his resignation
was out of the question and called on all sides to find a
negotiated and peaceful solution to the standoff.
"It was agreed that this undemocratic onslaught should be
withdrawn and parties should come back to the negotiation
table," his press office said in a statement after Sharif
chaired a meeting with his top officials.
Ousted from an earlier stint in office in a coup in 1999,
Sharif still has a difficult relationship with the army. Even
if he survives this crisis, he will remain significantly
weakened and sidelined on key issues such as foreign policy
Another opposition leader, cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, who has
rallied thousands of his own supporters alongside those of
Imran Khan, said protests would not subside unless Sharif
"State atrocities have reached their peak," he told his
supporters, standing on top of a shipping container. "Imran
khan and Dr. Qadri are fighting this war together."