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Pakistan Army Urges Political Dialogue as Protesters Reach Parliament


Pakistan's army is urging the government and opposition leaders to resolve a brewing political crisis through dialogue, as thousands of antigovernment protesters reached the parliament in Islamabad.

In a statement early on August 20, the military said: "All the stakeholders should immediately open dialogue to resolve differences."

Demonstrators marched on parliament on August 19, breaching the high-security "Red Zone" -- the diplomatic and political heart of Islamabad.

They used wire cutters and cranes to move shipping containers barricading the area.

The protesters encountered no resistance from security forces, who have reportedly been instructed to avoid violence.

The protests are led by former international cricketer Imran Khan, head of the country's third-largest political party, and conservative cleric Tahir ul-Qadri.

Their separate protests are both aimed at bringing down the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom they accuse of corruption and rigging elections.

Khan told his supporters to gather outside the parliament "in numbers so huge that people will forget Egypt's Tahrir Square" -- a reference to the square in Cairo that became the symbol of Egyptian revolution of 2011 that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

Qadri and Khan say hundreds of their supporters have been arrested during the past week.

Meanwhile, Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-e Insaaf (PTI) party announced that its lawmakers have all decided to resign from the 34 seats they control in the country's National Assembly.

The party also said its lawmakers would resign from all provincial parliaments with the exception of the legislature in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which the party controls.

That announcement means Pakistan would have to organize a raft of fresh elections.

Khan has rallied tens of thousands of supporters in Islamabad in recent days, but his protest has failed to attract the hundreds of thousands of demonstrators that he had promised to mobilize.

On August 18, other opposition parties distanced themselves from Khan's appeal for civil disobedience, which included a call for citizens to refuse to pay their utility bills or taxes as long as Sharif remains in power.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP