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Pakistani Cleric Tells Protesters To Blockade Parliament

Tahirul Qadri (R), a Pakistani-Canadian cleric, is surrounded by security personnel as he speaks to supporters during protest in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Tahirul Qadri (R), a Pakistani-Canadian cleric, is surrounded by security personnel as he speaks to supporters during protest in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Thousands of Pakistani protesters tried to blockade Pakistan’s parliament on August 20 as lawmakers met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to discuss the country’s political crisis.

But the lawmakers adjourned their session 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 that brought him to power were rigged.

On August 19, the 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.

Both Qadri and Khan on August 20 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 (1700 Prague time).

Qadri issued the call for his supporters to blockade the legislature after it became apparent that Sharif was inside for talks with lawmakers on August 20.

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 the 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 also are 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, also were closed on August 20 as a result of the presence of protesters within the red zone.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP