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Panel to discuss march with Qadri

Government faces security concerns ahead of protest

Image Credit: EPA
Prominent religious leader, Tahirul Qadri (2-L), is escorted by the leader of coalition party Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Farooq Sattar (2-R) as he arrives at their office in Karachi, Pakistan, 01 January 2013.
Gulf News

Karachi: The government has set up a three-member committee to hold negotiations with the cleric who has vowed to “change the corrupt system” in the country.

Tehreek-e-Minhajul Quran (TMQ) chief Dr Tahirul Qadri and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) members have organised the march for January 14, but

President Asif Ali Zardari summoned Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and other senior Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leaders in an effort to have the protest called off.

Sources said that a committee has been formed under the supervision of Khurshid Shah, minister for religious affairs and a loyal supporter of the PPP. Rehman Malik, the interior minister, and senator Jehangir Badar to hold talks with Qadri.

Meanwhile, a petition against the march that was filed in Lahore High Court was turned down by the court on Wednesday, raising more concerns for the government.

Security was being beefed up ahead of the proposed march while shipping containers were being deployed at the roads to block the path of the participants.

Some 25,000 additional police officers were called in from Islamabad from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Punjab governments, but the latter claims it has no spare officers to send.

The federal government, however, has cancelled all leave for officers and placed them all on duty.

The interior minister has also asked Qadri to confine the march to F9 Park, a huge public facility spanning acres of grass fields.

In a press conference, Hyder Abbas Rizvi, the senior leader of MQM, said that the march was not against the government but was against the system that provides immunity to those who are guilty of corruption.

President Zardari, who also shares chairmanship of PPP with his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, was also holding talks with his party leaders to carve out a strategy for the upcoming elections and how to install a caretaker government ahead of polls.

The government is scheduled to complete its constitutional term on March 16 but due to security concerns in the country a caretaker government could be formed till the general elections are held at a future date.

Sindh province has been a stronghold of the ruling party but recently Zafar Ali Shah, a seasoned leader of the party who won parliament elections for the PPP five times, deserted the party and announced joining the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of Nawaz Sharif. The defection of Shah was a setback for the PPP.

Sources said that the party veterans held discussions to consolidate their victory chances in the forthcoming elections.