Islamabad: After night-long clashes here between anti-government demonstrators and security forces that left three people dead and about 450 others injured, the situation continued to be tense and uncertain even as the powerful Army Chief General Raheel Sharif summoned a meeting of corps commanders on Sunday.
The clashes broke out late last night when the demonstrators who have laid siege to the heart of the Pakistani establishment, housing the Presidency, the National Assembly, the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister's Office, sought to storm Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's residence nearby after breaking through the police barricade.
The violence continued throughout the night and subsided this morning but the 18-day stand-off continued to force Sharif's resignation over alleged rigging during last year's elections.
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan vowed to fight till death and asked Pakistanis to rebel against the "illegal" regime while the other anti-Sharif protest leader cleric Tahir-ul Quadri alleged seven of his supporters were killed by security forces which could not be confirmed.
A protester wears a gas mask while another covers his face with a cloth to
keep from tear gas during a protest near prime minister's home in
Islamabad, Pakistan on Sunday. (Photo: AP)
General Sharif called a meeting of his corps commanders to discuss matters relating to the internal security situation. The army holds the key to resolving the impasse which has plunged the country into the worst crisis, 15 months after Sharif's PML-N was voted to power.
Among those injured in the overnight clashes were several journalists. Reporters, who were covering the protests, were brutally tortured by rioters and the police.
Meanwhile, the government on its part, said it was trying to re-open talks with opposition groups. Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid said the government remained open negotiations to end the crisis peacefully.
"The government did not initiate the clashes. They turned violent and tried to enter sensitive government buildings, which are the symbol of the state," Rashid was quoted by Geo News channel as saying.
"They wanted their demands to be met at gunpoint but still, our doors are open for talks," he said. Sharif, who yesterday went to Lahore with his staff, returned to the capital on Sunday.
On Saturday, Sharif dismissed the protests, describing it as a "tiny storm" that will end soon. "This is just a tiny storm, a tumult, which would be ended in a few days," Sharif said.
Indicating that certain forces were trying to target him, the Pakistan Premier asserted that "conspiracy" against democracy will not be tolerated. The Lahore police on early Sunday placed containers on Raiwind Road leading to the palatial Jati Umera residence of Prime Minister Sharif.
A Pakistani riot policeman fires a tear gas shell at supporters of Imran Khan and cleric Tahir ul Qadri during clashes near the prime minister's residence in Islamabad (Photo: AFP)
Sharif had left the prime minister house in Islamabad for his Lahore residence, which is sprawling on acres of land, on Friday along with his personal staff.
"Sharif had vacated the prime minister house fearing it might come under siege from the protesters," a source in the ruling PML(N) said.
His brother and Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif is also living there.
"Sharif will not move to the prime minister house in Islamabad till the police manage to clear the area from Khan's Pakistan Tahreek-i-Insaf and Qadri's Pakistan Awami Tahreek," the source said, adding Sharif and his family members would not travel by road in the present circumstances.
Protesters gathered on streets of Islamabad (Photo: Twitter)
On the other hand, a group of Imran Khan's supporters gathered outside the residence of defence minister Khawaja Asif in Sialkot, some 150 km from Lahore, and pelted stones at it.
Police, however, managed to disperse them. In Multan, some 350 km from here, the Tehrik-e-Insaf activists blocked the motorway road for several hours. Police used baton to disperse them.
Tehrik-e-Insaf Punjab president Ejaz Chaudhry said: "Today we will block all entry and exit points of Punjab province. We will bring the life to standstill to pressure Nawaz Sharif to resign."
Watch: Scores injured in anti-government protests in Pakistan