08/28/2014, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Islamabad: despite opposition in the streets, prime minister unwilling to quit

Former cricket champion Imran Khan is leading the protest. He wants the prime minister to step back, slams his election in May 2013 as rigged. Nawaz Sharif rules out resignation, but seeks dialogue with the opposition. Rumors continue about a possible military move.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In a tough speech in parliament, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said he would not give in to protests and resign, whilst the government will remain in office until the end of its term.

The prime minister who came before parliament is definitely in a battle mode, stressing that the government will not resign in the face of popular demonstrations that have inflamed the country for the past two weeks.

Former cricket champion Imran Khan, who currently heads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and Tahir-ul-Qadri, a religious leader, founder and leader of Minhaj-ul-Quran International (MQI), are leading the protest movement.

Since 15 August, thousands of Khan and Qadri supporters have been camped outside parliament. They are demanding Sharif's resignation and that of the government elected in May 2013 following what they consider a rigged and fraudulent election.

At the same time, increasingly there is talk of a possible intervention by the military, the real power in the country, to end the political crisis. Indeed, in a nation that has already experienced three military coups, another one may not be excluded.

In his address to the parliament, Sharif insisted that his government and party -the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) - would keep the reins of command.

So far, street protests in Islamabad have remained peaceful with security forces keeping a low profile. Negotiations for a political solution to the dispute continue despite Imran Khan's hard line stance against any proposal that does not include the prime minister's resignation.

Analysts and experts of Pakistani politics have taken notice of the efforts by the former cricket champion to carve out a larger space on the national scene for himself and his party. However, many warn that any march on the capital and further protests could be dangerous and have devastating consequences.

For now, he has led the protest, more from his living room than among his supporters, but the real question is whether he can offer a "strategy" and a "vision" beyond protest.

It is also still unclear what real support he has and the nature of his relations with the military leadership, the only force capable of ensuring the ouster of the prime minister - who has a clear majority in the parliament - and a change in power.

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