Pakistan PM defiant amid protest crisis

Pakistan`s embattled prime minister said Wednesday he would not cave in to protests demanding his resignation, striking a defiant note in his first major speech since the crisis erupted two weeks ago.

Nawaz Sharif told parliament his government would not be thrown off course by the demonstrations led by former cricketer Imran Khan and populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri.

Thousands of Khan and Qadri followers have been camped outside parliament since August 15 demanding Sharif quit, claiming the election which swept him to power last year was rigged.

The crisis has rattled Sharif`s government 15 months into a five-year term and prompted rumours the army may intervene to resolve matters -- and in doing so effectively put the elected government under its thumb.

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

But Sharif told lawmakers his Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) government would stay the course.

"We are not going to be diverted by these things," he said.

"The journey for the supremacy of constitution and law in Pakistan will continue with full determination and God willing there will not be any interruption in it."

He said the plan to boost Pakistan`s ailing economy through major development and infrastructure projects -- a key plank of the PML-N manifesto -- would continue.

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

Shortly before Khan and Qadri began their protests with "long marches" from the eastern city of Lahore, Sharif announced a judicial commission to investigate rigging claims in some seats, but Khan rejected the offer.

The government has also set up a parliamentary committee to look at electoral reform and Sharif urged Khan`s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party to support it.

"We want to bring reforms in all areas as we have to think about the future generation and find ways to take the country towards the destination of progress," he added.

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

Efforts to find a negotiated end to the crisis have made little headway, with Khan sticking to his hardline demand that Sharif must quit. 

On Tuesday Sharif met the powerful army chief General Raheel Sharif and issued a statement saying they had agreed to end the standoff "expeditiously".

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

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