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Pakistani Protesters Attempt To Blockade Parliament

  • RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal

Supporters of opposition cleric Tahirul Qadri listen to him speaking during protests in Islamabad on August 19.

Supporters of opposition cleric Tahirul Qadri listen to him speaking during protests in Islamabad on August 19.

Thousands of Pakistani protesters have tried to blockade Pakistan's parliament as lawmakers met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to discuss the country's political crisis.

But the lawmakers adjourned their session on August 20 and, together with Sharif, managed to leave the building without incident by using a back gate.

The next parliamentary session is scheduled for August 21.

It was not immediately clear whether Sharif would attend.

The protesters, led separately by opposition politician Imran Khan and cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, have been on the streets of Islamabad for five days to call for Sharif's resignation.

Khan and Qadri allege that Sharif has been involved in corrupt and illegal business schemes and that the general elections of May 2013, which brought him to power, were rigged.

On August 19, tens of thousands of demonstrators in the twin protests forced their way into the capital's high-security "red zone," despite pledges by security forces to keep them out of the district that houses government buildings and foreign embassies.

Authorities allowed the demonstrators to occupy a key road outside the parliament building overnight without trying to disperse the crowd after protesters used a crane to remove barricades at the entrances of the red zone and wire cutters to cut through barbed-wire road blocks.

On August 20, both Qadri and Khan urged protesters not to storm Islamabad's parliament building.

But Khan warned that he would lead his supporters into Sharif's office near parliament if the prime minister did not resign by 8 p.m. local time on August 20.

Qadri issued the call for his supporters to blockade the legislature after it became apparent that Sharif was inside the building for talks with lawmakers.

Police, paramilitary rangers, and army troops were guarding Sharif's office after the session was adjourned.

Army spokesman General Asim Saleem Bajwa said on Twitter on August 20 that the "situation requires patience, wisdom, and sagacity from all stakeholders."

Meanwhile, Pakistan's Supreme Court has summoned both Khan and Qadri to make an appearance before high court judges on August 21 for their role in organizing the protests.

Shop owners and vendors in central Islamabad say the protests have brought business to a standstill.

The demonstrations are also affecting the government's daily business.

Pakistan's Foreign Office said on August 20 that a visit to Islamabad planned by Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa for August 23 has been canceled as a result of the crowds.

Several foreign missions in Islamabad, including the U.S. Embassy, were also closed on August 20 as a result of the presence of protesters within the red zone.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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