Demands call amid Pakistan protests
A Cabinet minister has urged Pakistan's two key opposition figures leading mass rallies outside parliament to ease their demand for the prime minister's resignation.
The call by Railways Minister Saad Rafiq came as the government and the two opposition leaders - cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan and fiery cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri - were set to continue negotiations later.
The negotiators are trying to find a peaceful solution to a lingering crisis that has raised fears of political instability in the Islamic nation.
Mr Khan and Mr Qadri have been leading daily rallies for nearly two weeks in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, demanding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resign over alleged election fraud in the vote that brought him to power last year. On Monday night, the crowd numbered up to 10,000 people, police said.
Although the demonstrations have fallen well short of the 1 million protesters that both opposition leaders promised, heavy security measures have badly harmed business in the capital.
Both Mr Khan and Mr Qadri, a dual Pakistani-Canadian citizen with a wide following, have also demanded reforms in Pakistan's electoral system to prevent future vote fraud.
"Demanding resignation by force is not a good practice," Mr Rafiq told parliament. "We want a peaceful resolution of the crisis. We are showing flexibility."
He said the government has held four rounds of talks so far with Mr Khan and Mr Qadri but gave no specifics.
Mr Rafiq also urged Mr Qadri to withdraw his 48-hour "deadline," which expires later in the day and which the cleric set for Mr Sharif's resignation.
Mr Qadri says he is "prepared to die" to see Mr Sharif resign. He has also demanded that Mr Sharif and the premier's younger brother, who is chief minister in the eastern Punjab province, be arrested over an incident in June in the eastern city of Lahore when 14 people were killed during clashes between Mr Qadri's supporters and police.
Mr Sharif reiterated he has no intention of stepping down, saying the rallies in Islamabad will not deter his government from abiding by "constitution and law".
"We are not afraid of such things," he said of the protests.
Mr Sharif was forced from office after a previous stint as premier in 1999, when the then-army chief Pervez Musharraf seized power in a coup.