Thousands had tried to storm Sharif's house in protests led by
former cricket star Imran Khan and firebrand cleric Tahir ul-Qadri,
destabilizing the coup-prone nation.
But by Wednesday, only a few hundred people were camped out outside
parliament in the high-security Red Zone area in the center of the
capital Islamabad, with the army protecting key government
Sharif has refused to step down, while protest leaders have rejected
his calls to come to the negotiating table, creating a dangerous
deadlock and prompting fears the military might seize power.
But in the latest twist, Khan and Qadri agreed to talk to a
committee of opposition politicians seeking to mediate between the
government and the protesters and help find a political solution.
"The entire nation is disturbed by the ongoing crisis,"
Siraj-ul-Haq, a conservative Islamist politician leading the
mediation effort, said. "(Khan's party) has accepted our request (to
hold talks) with an open heart and we are thankful to them."
The crisis has taken many turns since protests broke out in
mid-August, subsiding at times and erupting in violence again, with
most commentators saying it was too early to say whether a
negotiated solution was in sight.
Violent scenes in the usually quiet capital have alarmed many people
in a nation where power has often changed hands though military
coups rather than elections, with some officials accusing the
military of orchestrating the protests as a way of sidelining or
even toppling Sharif - a charge it denies.
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Few commentators think the army is bent on seizing power again but
even if Sharif survives, he would emerge significantly weakened and
likely play second-fiddle to the army on key security and foreign
On Tuesday, parliament threw its weight behind Sharif who has
convened a week-long joint session of the chamber where he enjoys a
solid majority following last year's landslide election victory.
He chaired another session in parliament on Wednesday when more
lawmakers were expected to deliver speeches in his support.
(Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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