Pakistan cricket hero's party quits parliament

August 22, 2014 - 8:35 AM
Pakistan

Supporters of Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, shown in the banner, jostle to get food while in a rally in Islamabad, Pakistan, Aug. 22, 2014. Thousands of Imran Khan's and Tahir-ur-Qadri's supporters are besieging parliament in the capital to pressure Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign over alleged election fraud. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The party of Pakistan's famed cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who has led a week of anti-government protests in the capital, resigned from parliament on Friday in its latest bid to drive Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from power over alleged election fraud.

The move came a day after parliament presented a united front against Khan, with opposition parties backing a resolution rejecting his calls for Sharif's resignation as unconstitutional despite the presence of thousands of protesters just outside.

Khan and popular cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri have led twin protests over the past week calling on Sharif to step down. Thousands of their supporters have gathered in the heart of Islamabad, in the so-called Red Zone housing government buildings. They accuse Sharif of rigging the May 2013 election, which brought him to power in the first democratic transition in Pakistan's history.

The election also saw Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party win 34 seats in the 342-member National Assembly, making it the third largest bloc in the lower house of parliament.

Khan and Qadri have called for electoral reforms and the appointment of a caretaker government to hold a new vote. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N party has said it is willing to discuss all of their demands except for the prime minister's resignation.

In recent days Khan had issued a series of ultimatums calling on Sharif to step down, and at times it seemed his protesters might besiege parliament or enter the premier's nearby office.

But on Friday he appeared to have backed down.

"We resigned from the National Assembly as we believe that the elections were not transparent," Arif Alvi, a lawmaker from Khan's party, told reporters.

Sadiqul Farooq, a spokesman for the ruling party, said there was no threat to the government, which retains the support of a 190-member majority.

Khan's party on Thursday held initial talks with the government but later pulled out, saying authorities were planning a crackdown on the protests. The government insisted it had no plans to confront the demonstrators and wants to resolve the dispute through negotiations.

The protests have ground downtown Islamabad to a halt, and had initially raised fears of unrest. Pakistan, a nuclear-armed U.S. ally, has a long history of political turmoil and military dictatorships.

But the protests, which began as convoys from the eastern city of Lahore, have been peaceful, with families taking part in a festive atmosphere of dancing, drum beats and patriotic songs.