September 8, 2014 / 11:29 AM / 3 years ago

Pakistan opposition says making progress in government talks to end protests

Anti-government protesters listen to a speech by their leader Tahir ul-Qadri, a Sufi cleric and leader of the political party Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), during heavy rain in front of the Parliament house in the Red Zone during the Revolution March in Islamabad September 4, 2014. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Leaders of Pakistani protests demanding Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resignation are making progress in talks with the government, officials said on Monday, trying to find a solution to a crisis that has destabilized the coup-prone nation.

Anti-government protests turned deadly last month, with thousands trying to storm Sharif’s house in an outburst of violence which has prompted fears that the army might intervene and even topple Sharif.

After weeks of deadlock, protest leaders Imran Khan, a former cricket star, and Tahir ul-Qadri, a firebrand Sufi cleric, are now in talks with government officials.

Negotiations, which went on through the weekend, revolve around six demands that Khan has made, including that the prime minister step down, fresh elections be held and electoral reforms carried out.

“We are going clause by clause, line by line, on all points,” said lawmaker Asad Umar from Khan’s party, minutes before he went into talks with the government team.

“Initially, we had differences on almost all points but in the last three days, we have been making progress and issues are being resolved. We think that the government is finally serious about this.”

Qadri and Khan have taken an inflexible stand on their demand that Sharif quit, and it was unclear what kind of solution would suit all the parties since the prime minister has categorically refused to step down.

Umar said the two sides had decided to chalk out five demands before discussing Sharif’s resignation.

“Both sides have an irreconcilable position on Nawaz’s resignation,” he said. “So the negotiating teams are talking about all the other demands first and this (demand that Sharif resign) is something that Imran and Nawaz may have to figure out one on one.”

Islamabad however is full of speculation that the opposition might drop their demand for his resignation and agree to end their anti-government campaign.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who is heading the government’s negotiating team, said the government was making all possible efforts to end the crisis.

“We want to see the end of this crisis so that the country’s economy can be brought back to its path,” he told reporters late on Sunday.

Some ruling party officials have accused the military of instigating the unrest as a way of unsettling Sharif and exerting supremacy over him. The army, which has ruled Pakistan for more than half its turbulent history, has denied it is meddling in civilian affairs.

Few commentators think the army wants to seize power again this time but the conflict has already significantly weakened Sharif, who is likely play second-fiddle to the army on key security and foreign policy issues.

Writing By Mehreen Zahra-Malik Editing by Maria Golovnnina and Nick Macfie

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