Pak govt invites 'Azadi March' protesters for talks

Wednesday 13th November 2019 05:46 EST

Islamabad: The Pakistan government asked the opposition leaders, spearheaded by firebrand cleric-cum-politician Maulana Fazlur Rehman, to end their agitation, even as the protesters demanding resignation of Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to call off their massive sit-in strike. Dubbed as 'Azadi March', the massive protest led by right-wing Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) leader is held to topple the Khan-led government. The opposition leaders accuse Khan of "rigging" the 2018 general elections. Addressing thousands of protesters, Rehman said the government negotiators should not come for talks if the prime minister's resignation was off the table.

Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, during a National Assembly session, told the opposition parties to "come to the table" to resolve all differences. "Keep sitting [on protest], but do not harm the country," Khattak, who is leading the government's negotiation committee, was quoted as saying. Khattak has alleged that Rehman considered negotiations with the government committee as "time pass. They [opposition] are not even ready to listen. Maulana sahib says that this jirga is a time pass. Fine, then we are also passing time with you," Khattak said.

Members of the Opposition, however, threatened that the JUI-F sit-in will continue. The opposition parties are protesting in the assembly against government's move of passing 11 ordinances without holding a debate. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader Khawaja Asif said the passing of laws through ordinances was not a "good omen" and warned that if the government continued with the practice, it would "ruin democracy". Addressing Khattak's remarks during the session, he said: "[Your party] sowed these seeds. You were the one who danced on top of a container." The opposition leaders gave Prime Minister Khan a 48-hour ultimatum to resign, saying the massive anti-government protest will take a new direction after two days. "The Azadi March will take a new direction after two days," said senior JUI-F leader Akram Khan Durrani. Rehman warned that chaos will ensue if their demands were not met.

The opposition parties, including the (PML-N) and the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), have thrown their weight behind the massive anti-government rally in Islamabad. The protest in the capital is the first concerted opposition challenge that Khan has faced since he won the general election last year. In its list of demands, the Opposition's Rehbar Committee has sought Khan's resignation and fresh elections in the country without the supervision of the armed forces. The government, on the other hand, has demanded that the committee end the sit-in. The Pakistan Army said that it is "too busy" in matters of national security to get involved in any political issue, apparently referring to the protest. Pakistan Army spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor made the comments in a TV interview when asked if the Army chief will mediate in the ongoing demonstration by the cleric-cum-politician.

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