|Islamabad agitation nears negotiated end
A Pakistani cleric announced that a mass sit-in of tens of thousands of people outside parliament in Islamabad would end today.
Tahir-ul Qadri made the announcement as the country's corruption watchdog told the Supreme Court it did not yet have enough evidence to arrest Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on graft allegations, as the top judge had ordered, AFP reports.
Tension in Pakistan has been at fever pitch since Tuesday, when the arrest order coincided with Qadri's arrival in Islamabad, delivering a fiery speech denouncing politicians and praising the armed forces and judiciary.
The timing sparked panic about a rumored judiciary-military plot to derail elections due by mid-May. The polls, if successful, would be the first democratic transition of power between two civilian governments in Pakistan's history.
Qadri gave the government 90 minutes to negotiate and later told his supporters that talks would begin at 3:45 pm local time.
Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said a delegation of government and coalition partners will meet Qadri.
Qadri wants parliament dissolved immediately and a caretaker government set up in consultation with the military and judiciary to implement reforms before free elections can be held.
The government has so far stuck to its position that parliament will disband in mid-March to make way for a caretaker government, set up in consultation with political parties, and elections within 60 days – sometime by mid-May.
Qadri announced today would be the last day of the sit-in. “Tomorrow there will be no sit-in. We have to end it today.’’
The military has remained silent during the protest and President Asif Ali Zardari has spent the duration in Karachi, Pakistan's financial capital.
In the Supreme Court the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau, Fasih Bokhari, told Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry that investigations into a power projects graft case were not complete. He said it took time to find evidence to prosecute those allegedly involved.