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Pakistan protesters seek to enter capital’s restricted area


A Pakistani supporter of Canada-based preacher Tahirul Qadri flashes victory signs during a protest rally in Islamabad on August 17, 2014, against the country's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz-led government. Thousands of opposition demonstrators crowded the streets of the Pakistani capital for a third day, after a populist cleric issued a 48-hour ultimatum demanding the arrest of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Photo: AFP/Aamir Qureshi

Islamabad: Tens of thousands joined protests in Pakistan's capital on Sunday led by opposition figures Imran Khan and cleric Tahirul Qadri, demanding the "corrupt" prime minister step down.

"Nawaz Sharif should resign as soon as possible. We will keep pushing forward, even into his bedroom," said Ali Gandapur, revenue minister in the province Khan's party controls, surrounded by rifle-carrying bodyguards.

The protests have raised worries about Pakistan's stability barely a year after Sharif took power in a landslide election win that marked the first democratic transfer of power in the history of the nation of 180 million people.

Khan, a former international cricket star whose speech is still peppered with metaphors of the game, told supporters in a late-night Saturday speech: "maybe the world cup final will be played tomorrow... people will forget Tahrir Square".

The reference to the square, site of Egypt's most violent anti-government protests, followed a warning by Khan earlier on Saturday.

He said his supporters wanted to march on parliament via the "Red Zone", an enclave home to most Western embassies, and he was struggling to hold them back.

Fortified lines

Many of the young men gathering at Khan's protest said they were eager to push against heavily fortified lines of riot police to reach parliament or the prime minister's house if Khan commanded. "I told my parents, if I am martyred, pray for me," said student Muhammed Qasim, 21, his goatee painted in the red and green colours of Khan's party.

Covered with oil

Riot police wearing body armour and carrying tear gas  stacked shipping containers on top of each other and covered them with oil to prevent people climbing them behind the stage where Khan was due to speak.

Qadri's supporters have set up camp on the capital's main thoroughfare, Jinnah Avenue, forcing many businesses to close.

"We are giving 48 hours for the government to resign and dissolve the assemblies and present themselves before the law," Qadri said Saturday night.

"Otherwise the people will decide and I will not be responsible."

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