ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Police in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad fired tear gas and rubber bullets on anti-government protesters attempting to storm Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s official residence late Saturday, injuring six people, according to officials.
Protesters have been camped outside parliament since Aug 15 demanding Sharif quit, claiming the election which swept him to power last year was rigged.
Some 25,000 people began to march on the Prime Minister’s house late Saturday after talks with the government mediated by the powerful army failed to end the impasse.
“The police are continuing to fire tear gas to disperse them,” an AFP journalist at the scene said, adding that the shelling began when the protesters tried to remove some barricades located in front of the residences of the prime minister and president using cranes.
Wasim Raja, a spokesman for the government-run Pakistan Institute for Medical Sciences, Islamabad’s main government hospital, said: “We have received six people, they have rubber bullet injuries.”
Television pictures showed police in riot gear and some bloodied protesters being carried to ambulances.
Paramilitary troops and soldiers standing guard to protect the PM’s house as well as other sensitive installations have not yet been called into action.
The government, meanwhile, struck a defiant note, issuing a statement saying that Sharif would not be stepping down.
“There is no question of resignation or proceeding on leave by Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, nor any member from the government side has made such suggestion,” the statement said.
Sharif had earlier dismissed the two-week old impasse as a “tiny storm” that would end soon.
The state-owned Pakistan Television quoted defence minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif as saying: “No one would be allowed to enter inside the sensitive buildings.”
The crisis took on a new dimension Thursday after the government asked the army to mediate, raising fears the military would use the situation to enact a “soft coup” and increase its dominance over civilian authorities.
Opposition cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan alleges the 2013 general election that swept Sharif to power in a landslide was rigged, though international observers said the vote was largely free and fair.
Populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri has demanded wholesale changes to Pakistan’s political system and called for an interim “unity government” while they are implemented.
The leaders have drawn thousands to the streets of Islamabad, but their call has not mobilised mass support in a country of 180 million people.