Pakistani PM announces court probe into rigging allegations

People listen to a broadcast speech by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on a television in an electronics market in Islamabad on August 12, 2014. In a televised address to the nation, Mr Sharif said he was requesting the Supreme Court to form a
People listen to a broadcast speech by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on a television in an electronics market in Islamabad on August 12, 2014. In a televised address to the nation, Mr Sharif said he was requesting the Supreme Court to form a commission to probe allegations of rigging of last year's elections. Mr Sharif's speech comes as opposition groups prepare to march on the capital on August 14, 2014 vowing to topple his government. -- PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday announced the Supreme Court would probe opposition allegations of rigging in last year's elections, in a bid to diffuse a growing political crisis that has unnerved his government.

The announcement was made two days ahead of the country's Independence Day celebrations, when followers of an opposition leader and a populist cleric plan to march on the capital to demand that Mr Sharif's government step down ahead of a fresh vote.

Mr Sharif's 2013 victory saw Pakistan's first-ever handover of power from one civilian-led government to another, in polls that local and foreign observers called credible.

Many analysts have said the opposition groups are playing into the hands of the country's powerful military establishment which wishes to cut the civilian government, with which it has several disagreements, down to size.

Addressing the nation on live television Tuesday evening, Mr Sharif said: "The government has decided that for independent and transparent investigations into the allegations of rigging a three-judges commission Supreme Court judges should be formed.

"My dear countrymen, after this step is there any room for a protest movement? I leave you to answer this question," he added.

Earlier, the 64-year-old said that economic progress had been made under his government and that the opposition group's protest stood to reverse the tide.

The protests are headed by former cricketer Imran Khan, who leads the third-largest opposition party, and Canada-based preacher Tahir-ul-Qadri who says he is struggling for an "interim national government" consisting of technocrats and experts.

Tension has gripped parts of the country since last week with running clashes between police and Mr Qadri's supporters in the eastern city of Lahore over several days leaving at least one protester dead.

In the capital Islamabad, authorities have been preparing to block roads using shipping containers while rumours of impending fuel shortages have sparked panic and long lines at petrol stations.

The marches are planned for August 14, the date of Pakistan's independence from Britain in 1947.

The government for its part has rejected the allegations and accuses the opposition groups of attempting to obtain by force what they could not achieve through democracy.