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3 dead in protests, Pakistan army meets, says won’t back off ‘playing its part’

Police fired tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters outside the PM's residence.

By: PTI | Islamabad |
Updated: September 1, 2014 2:06:49 am
Pakistani protesters gather at a road while police fire tear gas shell to disperse them during clashes in Islamabad, Pakistan, Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014. ( Source: AP ) Pakistani protesters gather at a road while police fire tear gas shell to disperse them during clashes in Islamabad, Pakistan, Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014. ( Source: AP )

By: Sajjad Hussain

The Pakistan military Sunday expressed serious concern over the prevailing political turmoil in the country, with the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif locked in a showdown with protesters.

The Corps Commanders’ conference was held at Rawalpindi, with Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif presiding.

In a terse statement, the military said: “While reaffirming support to democracy, the conference reviewed with serious concern the existing political crisis and the violent turn it has taken, resulting in large-scale injuries and loss of lives.”

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Pakistani protesters gather around a container with portrait of Pakistan's anti-government cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri as police fire tear gas shell to disperse them during clashes in Islamabad. ( Source: AP ) Pakistani protesters gather around a container with portrait of Pakistan’s anti-government cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri as police fire tear gas shell to disperse them during clashes in Islamabad. ( Source: AP )

Warning that “further use of force will only aggravate the problem”, the generals said the “situation should be resolved politically without wasting any time and without recourse to violent means”.

While trying to stay neutral in the current campaign against Sharif led by opposition leader Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, the army said it “remains committed to playing its part in ensuring security of the state and will never fall short of meeting national aspirations”.

The army has indicated it will not intervene to save Sharif. The tone of Sunday’s statement, in fact, does not endorse the handling of the crisis by the PM, especially the use of force which resulted in three deaths and injuries to over 500 people on Saturday night.

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Pakistani protesters gather around a container which carries cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. Pakistani protesters gather around a container which carries cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.

The army meeting, which was advanced from Monday, sent a clear message that the forces were with “democracy” and the “state of Pakistan” and not with a particular individual, and left the door open for intervention if the situation got out of control.

Protests had turned violent on Saturday night as supporters of Imran Khan and Qadri had sought to storm Sharif’s residence, breaking through barricades and clashing with police. Among those injured were journalists.

Sharif has called for a joint sitting of parliament on Tuesday to discuss the crisis.

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Imran Khan, for his part, vowed to fight “till my last breath”. “I request the nation, civil servants, bureaucrats and police, to rebel against this illegal government,” Khan told supporters. “I am prepared to die fighting for the freedom for my people. Allah, ya azaadi ya maut (Allah, either freedom or death).”

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First published on: 31-08-2014 at 10:25:01 am
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