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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Thousands of protesters trying to unseat Pakistan’s government attempted to blockade the country’s parliament on Wednesday. Tahir ul Qadri, a Pakistani-Canadian cleric who is one of the movement’s leaders, told his followers to "surround parliament and not let anyone in our out," although Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other lawmakers were able to leave from a back exit, according to Reuters. Qadri and cricket star turned politician Imran Khan accuse the government of vote rigging and murder, and called on their followers to take to the streets to force Sharif to step down seven days ago. On Tuesday, they breached the highly protected “Red Zone” that houses government ministries and many foreign embassies.
The government put the number of demonstrators at no more than 3,000 during the day and 10,000 at night, but Khan and Qadri claimed that the crowds had swelled to the hundreds of thousands. More than 20,000 police, paramilitary and military personnel have been deployed to protect the zone. The country’s powerful military has not taken an explicit side in the conflict, and on Tuesday night its chief spokesperson Maj. Gen. Asim S. Bajwa called for "meaningful dialogue in larger national and public interest." Khan's party on Wednesday rejected “all dialogue” until Sharif steps down. The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, urged "all sides to refrain from violence, exercise restraint" and resolve their conflicts through peaceful dialogue.
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