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Pakistan chief rattled by protests

Violence, pressure build on regime

– Ahead of a joint session of parliament, Pakistan’s prime minister and army chief held marathon meetings Monday over violent anti-government protests that could force the premier of this nuclear-armed country to resign.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif again vowed he would not step down under duress, even as protesters briefly took over the country’s state-run TV broadcaster and battled security forces in the streets. But the pressure from three days of violent protests on Sharif has intensified amid reports that the powerful army chief advised him to resign.

The parliamentary session today appears to be an attempt to rally political support to the prime minister’s side. While many politicians have backed him, many in the country have grown worried about the protests and the direction of the nascent democracy in the country of 180 million.

The turmoil comes as part of the mass demonstrations led by cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri and opposition politician Imran Khan, who both demand Sharif step down over their allegations of fraud in last year’s election. Their protests, which have been peaceful for weeks, turned ugly this weekend when clashes between protesters and security forces killed three people and wounded 400 in running street battles in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

The rallies against Sharif constitute the biggest threat to his government. Several rounds of talks between representatives of Khan and Qadri and the government have failed to resolve the crisis.

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