Aug 29, 11:30 AM EDT

Pakistani premier denies asking army to mediate

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ISLAMABAD (AP) -- Pakistan's prime minister on Friday denied asking the country's military chief to mediate with opposition leaders and protesters who have camped for two weeks outside parliament in the capital, Islamabad, demanding his resignation over alleged voting fraud.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's remarks to the National Assembly indicated that talks with the opposition - with or without army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif's mediation - were unlikely to produce a breakthrough in the crisis.

They also threw into question earlier reports that said the government had requested the powerful military's mediation in the standoff with protesters led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and fiery cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri.

The weekslong political crisis in Pakistan comes as the country, which has a history of political turmoil and military rule, is battling the Taliban and other militant groups in a major offensive near its border with Afghanistan.

Sharif's election last year marked the first democratic transition in the nuclear-armed nation's history, but Qadri and Khan have alleged widespread voting fraud.

Sharif enjoys immunity as long as he remains in office, and has refused to step down despite two weeks of protests that at their height saw tens of thousands of people camp outside parliament.

Several rounds of negotiations between the opposition and government representatives have so far failed to make any headway.

On Thursday, the army chief met with Khan and Qadri, who afterward said they agreed to the military's role as "mediator and guarantor" in further talks with the government.

Khan said the general had also told him the army would guarantee an impartial judicial probe into allegations of vote fraud - though Khan said he insisted "there cannot be an independent investigation so long as Nawaz Sharif is prime minister."

Sharif told lawmakers that neither he nor the army had "sought any role in the mediation" but that he approved the military chief's meeting with the two opposition leaders after they had requested it.

Later Friday, Qadri insisted he, too, did not request the army's mediation.

Meanwhile, Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa has clarified on twitter that the army chief was asked by the government to play a role to resolve the crisis.

"COAS was asked by the Govt to play facilitative role for resolution of current impasse, in yesterday's meeting, at PM House," said Gen. Bajwa in his latest tweet.

Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told reporters that the military spokesman's statement was endorsing the government's stance of giving a `facilitative role to the army, but not as "mediator and guarantor."

He warned the protesting crowd against entering government buildings.

"If any attempt is made to create a situation, they (Khan and Qadri) would be responsible for the consequences."


Associated Press reporter Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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