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Shehbaz refuses Imran’s 6-day deadline, says parliament to decide election schedule

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said on Thursday the country’s parliament would decide the schedule for next general elections while extending an olive branch of dialogue to former premier Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party despite political differences with it.

The prime minister was addressing the National Assembly hours after Imran Khan called off his anti-government protest in the federal capital while asking the government to dissolve the assemblies and announce fresh elections within six days.

Shehbaz Sharif said there was no room for “chaos and anarchy” in the country, adding that his administration was doing its best to revive Pakistan’s fragile economy.
“This house will decide when to hold elections,” he said while referring to Khan’s six-day deadline. “Your dictation will not work.”

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif addresses the National Assembly on Thursday.

The prime minister also emphasized the need for dialogue to sort out all outstanding political issues.

He said his coalition government would continue to address the challenges faced by the country and try to strengthen its economy.

Sharif criticized the PTI leaders for allowing their party workers to clash with law enforcement personnel while applauding the security forces for diligently performing their duties.

Earlier in the day, Pakistan’s top court dismissed the government’s petition seeking contempt of court proceedings against Khan for what it described as a violation of the court ruling.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the federal government and PTI to constitute negotiating committees and meet at 10pm to finalize modalities for peaceful and safe conduct of Khan’s long march to the capital.

However, the negotiations were not held as both sides claimed the other’s representatives did not show up.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif addresses the National Assembly on Thursday.

The court had also ordered the government to designate a spot in H-9 sector where the protesters could rally. However, PTI workers and supporters converged at D-Chowk near the parliament building instead, and Khan held his rally at Jinnah Avenue.

A five-member bench of the apex court heard the government’s petition and dismissed it, saying it would give its reasons in a detailed verdict to be released later.

On Thursday morning, thousands of PTI supporters, who had gathered at D-Chowk after arriving from different parts of the country, dispersed peacefully following Khan’s address to them.

The speech followed a long political drama that included clashes between demonstrators and police, and arrests of hundreds of Khan’s supporters across the country.

Shortly after the protest ended, the Islamabad district administration started removing shipping containers to unblock all roads in the federal capital and adjoining Rawalpindi city.

Police and other law enforcement personnel requisitioned from other provinces were also seen packing up and boarding buses to go back to their stations.

The administration also reopened Jinnah Avenue, which became the main protest venue, and all other roads in Islamabad, including Srinagar Highway and Islamabad Expressway.

Entry into the Red Zone, which houses important buildings like parliament and the Supreme Court, is however still restricted and only allowed from Margalla Road.

Visit to D-Chowk

Later, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif stepped out to greet law enforcement personnel who were serving at Islamabad’s D-Chowk, which was to be ground-zero for Imran’s sit-in.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif shakes hands with law enforcement at D-Chowk on Thursday.

Sharif’s focal person on digital media, Abubaker Umer, tweeted photographs of the premier shaking hands and thanking them for shedding their “blood and sweat for this country”.

According to state-run APP PM Shehbaz said Pakistan’s progress was linked with the supremacy of the Constitution and ensuring the rule of law.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif interacting with the representatives of law enforcement agencies.

PM Shehbaz lauded the personnel of Rangers, Islamabad Police, and the capital’s Traffic Police for rendering their duties professionally and protecting the lives and property of the people. The prime minister appreciated the dedication of the law enforcement personnel in performing their duties “regardless of their political affiliation”.

He praised Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and Defence Minister Khawaja Asif for “dealing with the challenge effectively”.

‘Misled’ the Supreme Court

Separately, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, in a statement on Thursday, said that the PTI chairman “misled” the Supreme Court by “promising” to hold the sit-in at the court-designated place in H-9. “But he broke his promise by announcing to go to D-Chowk.

Meanwhile, government ministers and mouthpieces on Thursday claimed that former prime minister Imran Khan had “run away after spreading chaos” in the country as PTI protesters at Islamabad’s D-Chowk began dispersing after he gave the government a six-day deadline to call elections, failing which he would “return” to the capital.

In a tweet today, Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique said “Imran Khan ran away after spreading chaos in the country.”

He said that the government had fulfilled its responsibility to stop the unrest and was now looking upon the state’s most important “pillar” for justice. He was referring to the government’s petition in the Supreme Court seeking contempt proceedings against Imran Khan for “violating” court orders with regard to the Azadi March.

“The nation is watching [to see] how saboteurs and their masterminds who take undue advantage of court orders are treated. I have heard that justice is blind.”

PM Shehbaz thanks law enforcement.