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Pakistani lawmakers back Sharif amid calls for resignation

Supporters of cleric Tahir ul-Qadri and opposition politician Imran Khan commandeered containers Tuesday. Clashes between protesters and police have left three dead in three days.

Rehan Khan/European Pressphoto Agency

Supporters of cleric Tahir ul-Qadri and opposition politician Imran Khan commandeered containers Tuesday. Clashes between protesters and police have left three dead in three days.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Lawmakers met in an emergency session Tuesday to express support for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, after days of violent protests had appeared to bring the government to the brink of collapse.

Thousands of protesters, many armed with sticks and batons, remained camped outside Parliament, demanding the resignation of Sharif and accusing him of electoral fraud, nepotism, and corruption. But after three days of clashes between protesters and security forces that left three dead and hundreds wounded, there were no reports of violence Tuesday.

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Separate but sympathetic protest movements, led by opposition politician Imran Khan and cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, have paralyzed Islamabad for two weeks.

As the demonstrations have grown more aggressive in recent days, there have been intensifying accusations that the country’s military establishment has supported, or even directed, the protests in order to weaken Sharif. Protest leaders and military officials have denied those accusations.

On Tuesday, though, there was a sense that protest leaders were cautiously slowing the pace a day after demonstrators stormed the state television headquarters, and after a meeting between the army chief of staff and Sharif initially caused alarmed speculation that the military was pushing him to step down.

In Parliament, leaders of several parties criticized the protests and expressed support for Sharif, calling it critical for Pakistan’s democracy that he not be removed by force. Sharif listened to the proceedings with a somber expression, occasionally thumping his desk during more emotional appeals.

But support for Sharif was not unalloyed. Although one senator with the Pakistan Peoples Party, Aitzaz Ahsan, addressed the prime minister with the admonition that, “no one can force you to resign,” it was followed with the admission that, “we stand with you out of compulsion.”

Lawmakers have expressed growing criticism of Sharif’s governance in recent months, complaining that he has been aloof on important issues and mostly absent from parliamentary proceedings.

But the protests by Qadri and Khan — and in particular the violence of the past few days — appeared to galvanize political leaders to take the side of the standing government. In particular, the accusations of the military’s involvement appeared to outrage many.

“We request that the armed forces remain within their constitutional limits and be with us,” Mahmood Khan Achakzai, a blunt nationalist politician, said during his speech on the Parliament floor.

Maulana Fazalur Rehman, an influential religious politician, claimed that even as protesters did not hesitate to attack and beat police officers, they appeared to melt away at the signal of army officers on the street.

Meanwhile, Khan and Qadri appeared together for the first time Tuesday evening since they started their separate protest campaigns.

Khan announced that his party lawmakers would resign from Parliament in Wednesday’s sitting after a senior party leader made a final speech.

Stick-wielding supporters of Qadri could be seen staffing checkpoints on a main avenue to the government sector, frisking people as they approached the prime minister’s offices and Parliament.

Lawmakers had to use a longer, alternate route to reach Parliament for the joint session, which is expected to last a week.

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