09/01/2014, 00.00
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Islamabad: police clash with anti-government protesters, army ready to intervene

Army calls for a "peaceful" solution to the crisis. The opposition, led by Imran Khan, seeks to force the prime minister to resign. Three die and hundreds injured, including children, in clashes over the weekend. State TV stormed by protesters. Military on alert. Senior members of the opposition party criticize use of violence.

Islamabad (AsiaNews / Agencies) - This morning anti-government protesters, armed with stones and wooden sticks, clashed heavily with police and security forces on the streets of Pakistan's capital Islamabad, after days of unrest. The escalation of violence comes hours after a warning issued by Army Chiefs for a "peaceful" solution to the political crisis that has paralyzed the country more than two weeks.

On 15 August the protesters, led by former cricketer and leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan, launched a march on the capital, with the intention of overthrowing the government and forcing the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Analysts and local political experts do not rule out a military intervention in a country long ruled by the army and the scene of several coups d'état.

In an official statement the military leaders invite the government and the opposition to resolve differences in a peaceful manner. Otherwise, they are ready to "do our part to ensure safety". Their statement followed clashes between the night of 30 and 31 August in which three people were killed and at least 500 were injured, including several children.

This latest standoff was triggered by an attempt by a group of opponents led by Imran Khan and the populist religious leader Tahir-ul-Qadri to break into the residence of Prime Minister Sharif on the night of August 31. They are demanding the resignation of Sharif and his executive, which came to power in May 2013 following elections that the two leaders believe rigged and marred by fraud.

This morning fresh violence broke out when at least 3 thousand people again attempted to break through the security cordon and break into the office of the Prime Minister under pouring rain. The police responded with tear gas, which proved useless under the down pour.

Official sources from the army headquarters in Rawalpindi explain that "while reaffirming support for the democratic process," the current political crisis is a source of concern and there is a risk of " large scale wounded and casualties". The crisis must be resolved "through political means," adds the military source, "without wasting time and without violence".

In the late morning the protesters stormed the headquarters of the Pakistani state television; broadcasts were interrupted, while army troops reached the area to regain control of the station and allow broadcasts to continue as normal.

Qadri and Imran Khan's violent protests have met with criticism and dissent within the party led by the former cricket champion. Javed Hasmi, one of the prominent PTI leaders yesterday distanced himself from the decision to march on the residence of the prime minister and Parliament. "This kind of behavior is not seen in any country in the world" he said adding that if martial law is imposed in the country, Khan will bear the blame.


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