Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan on Tuesday slammed violent anti-government protests as a “revolt against the state” as lawmakers met to discuss the political crisis shaking Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government.
Parliament met for an emergency session after three days of clashes between police and club-wielding demonstrators demanding Sharif’s resignation. Sharif has resisted calls for him to go but protest leaders Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri have refused to back down, raising political tensions to fever pitch.
Violence erupted on Saturday when Khan and Qadri ordered their followers to storm the prime minister’s official residence, with protesters throwing rocks at police who responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. There were further clashes on Sunday and Monday, when activists armed with bamboo batons briefly seized control of the state broadcaster.
The protests to oust Sharif have disrupted life in the Islamabad since Aug. 15 and raised the specter of military intervention in a country ruled for half its history by the Army.
Khan, who leads an opposition party, claims the May 2013 elections that swept Sharif to power in a landslide were rigged. Qadri, a populist cleric, says the current political system is corrupt and must be swept away entirely. But the movements have not energized much widespread support beyond Khan and Qadri’s core followers.
The interior minister said the country should not be held to ransom by a few thousand people. “This is not a protest or a political gathering. This is a revolt against Pakistan—this is a revolt against the state institutions,” he told lawmakers.
Defense minister Khawaja Asif told AFP late on Monday that a cross-party negotiation team was set to approach the protest groups and try to end the standoff, which has seen three people killed and hundreds injured in clashes.
The joint session also included speeches by opposition lawmakers, including the PPP’s Aitzaz Ahsan and the PTI’s Javed Hashmi.
Hashmi formally resigned from the National Assembly, as per party policy, despite differences with party chief Imran Khan. Hashmi has alleged Khan is trying to force the government to collapse, while Khan has claimed Hashmi is no longer a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf.
Ahsan, meanwhile, criticized the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) for failing to enact electoral reforms and check “rampant corruption.” The PPP senator said he did not support the government’s “wrongdoing,” but would not allow a “crowd of a few thousand” to remove a constitutionally elected prime minister.
“Many of the allegations raised by the protesters are true,” said Ahsan, reiterating his party’s stance on electoral rigging during the 2013 general elections and the government’s failure to register a criminal case against parties alleged to be responsible for the deaths of 14 Pakistani Awami Tehreek activists during protests in Lahore. He also advised the PMLN to take some stock after the crisis in Islamabad had abated and correct its governance to avoid protests in future.