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Pak army chief summons commanders as political impasse, violence continue

ISLAMABAD: After night-long clashes between anti-government demonstrators and security forces that left three people dead and nearly 500 others injured, the situation continued to be tense even as the powerful Army Chief General Raheel Sharif summoned corps commanders on Sunday to discuss ‘deteriorating’ internal security situation.

The clashes broke out late Saturday night when the demonstrators who have laid siege to the heart of the Pakistani establishment, housing the Presidency, the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister's Office, sought to storm Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s residence nearby after breaking through the police barricade.

The violence continued throughout the night and subsided Sunday morning but the 18-day stand-off continued to force Sharif's resignation over alleged rigging during last year's elections.

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan vowed to fight till death and asked Pakistanis to rebel against the ‘illegal’ regime while the other anti-Sharif protest leader cleric Tahir-ul Quadri alleged seven of his supporters were killed by security forces which could not be confirmed.

General Sharif called a meeting of his corps commanders to discuss matters relating to the internal security situation. A security official said that the meeting was initially planned for on Monday but it was rescheduled due to ‘deteriorating internal security situation.’

Ghulam Mustafa Khan, a former army general, told Duniya TV that the commanders will discuss the entire security situation and try to conclude whether the civilian government can control it or not. “They will also decide the level of army intervention,” he said.

The army holds the key to resolving the impasse which has plunged the country into the worst crisis, 15 months after Sharif's PML-N was voted to power. Among those injured in the overnight clashes were several journalists.

Reporters, who were covering the protests, were brutally tortured by rioters and the police. Meanwhile, the government on its part, said it was trying to re-open talks with opposition groups. Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said the government remained open to negotiations to end the crisis peacefully.

“The government did not initiate the clashes. They turned violent and tried to enter sensitive government buildings, which are the symbol of the state,” Rashid was quoted by Geo News channel as saying.