Pakistan files murder case, naming PM as suspect, in bid to defuse crisis

Pakistani supporters of Canada-based preacher Tahir-ul-Qadri shout anti-government slogans during a protest in front of the Parliament in Islamabad on Thursday, Aug 28, 2014. The authorities in Pakistan on Thursday filed a murder case naming Pri
Pakistani supporters of Canada-based preacher Tahir-ul-Qadri shout anti-government slogans during a protest in front of the Parliament in Islamabad on Thursday, Aug 28, 2014. The authorities in Pakistan on Thursday filed a murder case naming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as a suspect, officials said, in a bid to defuse a fortnight of anti-government protests. -- PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - The authorities in Pakistan on Thursday filed a murder case naming the Prime Minister as a suspect, officials said, in a bid to defuse a fortnight of anti-government protests.

Thousands of protesters led by populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri and politician Imran Khan have camped outside the Parliament building in Islamabad to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The two-week showdown at the heart of the capital has rattled the nuclear-armed state and shaken Mr Sharif's government just 15 months in to a five-year mandate.

As well as wide-ranging calls for political reform, Mr Qadri has also demanded police bring murder charges against Mr Sharif over the killing of at least 10 of his followers in clashes with the police in the eastern city of Lahore.

A statement from the Prime Minister's office on Thursday said orders had been given to register a case.

"Federal government has decided to authorise registration of model town First Information Report (FIR) as per complaint of the aggrieved," the statement said.

A senior police official, requesting anonymity, said the report named 21 people including Mr Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital.

A week of on-off talks have made little obvious headway and Mr Qadri's team said they had failed and the cleric would make his "final and historic" speech at 6pm local time.

"After this speech Mr Qadri will have no control over the protesters and they will be allowed to leave," Qadri spokesman Shahid Mursaleen said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr Qadri was calling off the protest, though a source close to his camp said he may be planning to return to the eastern city of Lahore.

Mr Khan has remained defiant and refused to end his own parallel sit-in protest, saying he was seeking "independence or death" and would not rest until both Sharif brothers quit.

Mr Khan has alleged massive cheating in the May 2013 poll, though international observers said the vote was largely free and fair.

Though the two protest movements are not formally allied they have gained strength from one another and Mr Khan's position would be weakened if Mr Qadri ended his vigil.

Mr Sharif met the powerful army chief Raheel Sharif to discuss the stand-off on Thursday, the second-such meeting in as many days.

The two men agreed to "take necessary measures for resumption of stalled process of negotiations for an expeditious resolution in the best national interest", a statement from the PM's office said.

In a country that has seen three military coups, the threat of army intervention casts a shadow over virtually every moment of political crisis.

The government has set up a judicial commission to investigate poll rigging claims and a parliamentary committee to examine electoral reform, but neither move satisfied the protest leaders.

The protests have so far been peaceful, with security forces - deployed in huge numbers in the capital - taking a hands-off approach to the demonstrations.

Neither protest movement has mobilised mass support beyond their core followers, and other opposition parties have shunned Mr Khan's call to unseat the government and begin a campaign of civil disobedience.