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Pakistan PM calls for probe into election rigging

Opposition leader calls for Sharif to step down

Pakistan PM calls for probe into election rigging

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Picture: Asianet-Pakistan/ reporter, Lahore

August 13, 2014

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Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday announced a probe into alleged rigging in last year's elections, a move rejected by main opposition leader Imran Khan.

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

Addressing the nation on a Tuesday evening TV broadcast, Sharif said: "The government has decided that for independent and transparent investigations into the allegations of rigging, a three-member commission of 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 said.

Khan rejected Sharif's proposal in less than an hour, vowing to march on Islamabad "to bring down the monarchy of Nawaz Sharif".

"We don't accept this offer now. Nawaz Sharif should have come up with such suggestions a year ago when I called for thumb verification of voters," Khan told a press conference at his Lahore residence.

Khan, a former cricket star who heads the country's third largest political party, said he would accept a corruption commission only under a caretaker government. "Nawaz Sharif must first step down," he said.

He also complained that the government was harassing and detaining his party members, saying to the prime minister, "you are digging your own grave by stopping and arresting our workers."

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 democratic means.

Khan's supporters will join supporters of Qadri, a Canada-based cleric, for Thursday's march on Islamabad, which coincides with Pakistan's Independence Day.

According to local media, authorities are sealing off Islamabad, using shipping containers, while cellular phone service has been shut down to thwart protest marches.

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.

In his television address, the prime minister said that economic progress had been made under his government and that the opposition groups' protests would reverse the tide, AFP said.

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

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