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Pak govt reaches out to firebrand cleric to end protest


Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam leader Fazlur Rehman


Islamabad: The Pakistan government has reached out to firebrand cleric-cum-politician Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who is leading the first major bid to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan, to end the massive protest, which entered the fifth day on Tuesday.

The right-wing Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) leader is leading the protest, dubbed as 'Azadi March', in Islamabad, demanding Khan's resignation, accusing him of "rigging" the 2018 general elections.

Opposition parties, including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People Party (PPP), have also thrown their weight behind the anti-government rally.

Two different negotiating teams of the government reached out to the JUI-F on Monday in Islamabad, the Express Tribune reported.

A delegation led by former prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain met the cleric on Monday night, hours after the government's negotiating team led by Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak held talks with the Rehbar Committee headed by JUI-F leader Akram Khan Durrani and discussed their demands, it said.

However, neither of the sides showed any sign of conceding any ground, the report said.

Khattak and the Rahbar Committee will resume talks on Tuesday afternoon.

Rehman on Monday asked his supporters to continue their anti-government protest with "perseverance" and "courage", as the 48-hour deadline set by him for Prime Minister Khan's resignation expired.

He said the movement to oust the prime minister "will continue to move ahead and will never be on the back foot".

Rehman on Friday last gave Khan a two-day ultimatum to resign, saying the "Gorbachev of Pakistan" must step down without testing the patience of peaceful protestors.

The 66-year-old cleric said the protest would continue until Khan steps down.

Meanwhile, amid the continuing protest, PPP chief Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has vowed to form the government at all costs.

Addressing a PPP workers' convention at Uch Sharif in Punjab province on Monday, Bilawal termed Khan as an "inefficient" prime minister and said his party "would form a national government at all costs", the Dawn newspaper reported.

Criticising the federal budget, he said it has made the lives of the people "hell".

Bilawal also criticised the government's policies, particularly the prime minister's announcement of construction of five million houses, the report stated.

The PPP leader alleged the government's housing policy has rendered thousands of poor people homeless.

Extending his support to the farming community, Bilawal said the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government of Khan has inflicted economic damage on the farmers.

He also criticised the government's media policy, saying the press was not free in Pakistan and the ruling party has silenced the people's voice.

Referring to the 'Azadi' march, he said, "We have supported him (Rehman)."

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