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Fate of anti-government protest lies in Pakistani military's hands

Imran Khan, the chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party, addresses supporters in front of the Parliament house building in Islamabad on Thursday.

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By Reuters
Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, 6:12 p.m.

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's army stepped into a political struggle between the country's embattled prime minister and the opposition on Thursday, signaling a possible end to a crisis that has destabilized the coup-prone nation.

Pakistan has been gripped by mass rallies for more than two weeks, with protesters led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and firebrand cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri camped outside parliament demanding that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resign.

Attempts to resolve the crisis through talks have failed, leading to a deadlock and raising the specter of violence as thousands of increasingly impatient activists, some armed with sticks, massed in the heart of Islamabad despite intense heat.

Addressing the roaring crowd late at night, Qadri said the army had offered to mediate in the standoff, a proposal he immediately endorsed.

“The army chief has asked us to give him 24 hours to solve the crisis,” he told thousands of flag-waving supporters. Khan, speaking shortly after him, echoed his remarks.

“The army will compile and put together a package of our demands and make sure they are implemented,” Qadri added.

The army's press wing tweeted that the army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, would meet both opposition leaders late Thursday. No other official comment was immediately available.

Some officials in Sharif's administration have accused the army of orchestrating the protests as a way to weaken the prime minister, and many believe the fate of the anti-government movement ultimately lies in the military's hands.

Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 180 million, has been ruled by the military for half of its entire history and has repeatedly swung between democracy and military.

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