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Protest Standoff Continues at Pakistan Parliament

  • VOA News

Supporters of anti-government cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri block an entrance of the parliament during a protest at Islamabad's high-security Red Zone in Islamabad, Pakistan, Aug. 20, 2014.

Supporters of anti-government cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri block an entrance of the parliament during a protest at Islamabad's high-security Red Zone in Islamabad, Pakistan, Aug. 20, 2014.

Pakistan's parliament met Wednesday as thousands of protesters gathered outside, calling for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to step down.

The protesters broke down police barricades late Tuesday and entered into the area housing the parliament and other government buildings.

They are being led by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, who accuse Sharif of vote rigging and corruption.

Khan says if Sharif does not resign by 8:00 p.m. local time Wednesday, his supporters will storm the prime minister's heavily guarded office.

Qadri has directed his supporters to surround parliament and not let lawmakers leave until Mr. Sharif steps aside, something the prime minister says he will not do.

Many of the protesters accuse Sharif of rigging last year's election that brought him to office in the country's first ever democratic transfer of power.

Demonstrators from both Khan's and Qadri's camps have gathered in Islamabad for days, shutting down large parts of the capital.

Pakistan deployed hundreds of soldiers and up to 30,000 additional security personnel to the area as the protesters approached on Tuesday.

There were fears of unrest during the late-night Tuesday march, but police did not intervene as the protesters tore down the barricades.

Pakistan's military, which carried out three coups since the country's founding, has called for "meaningful dialogue" to help resolve the crisis.

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