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June 29, 2017

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Islamabad reaches out to protesters after 3 die

ISLAMABAD--Pakistan's government said Sunday it was trying to reopen talks with opposition groups after bloody overnight clashes between police and protesters outside the prime minister's residence left three dead and hundreds injured.

By Sunday morning sporadic clashes were continuing between police in riot gear and a few hundred protesters, as thousands more lay on the grass and slept. Many protesters had come armed with batons and slingshots.

Several vehicles stood torched and hundreds of tear gas canisters lay strewn on the ground on Islamabad's normally pristine Constitution Avenue following more than 12 hours of battle.

Thousands of followers of politician Imran Khan and firebrand cleric Tahir ul Qadri have been camped outside parliament since Aug. 15 demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, triggering a crisis that has raised the specter of military intervention.

Opposition groups — who claim the 2013 election which swept Sharif to power was rigged — tried to storm the prime minister's official residence on Saturday night, using cranes to remove barricades.

Information minister Pervaiz Rashid said Sunday the government remained open to restarting negotiations to end the situation 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," he told the private Geo News channel.

"They wanted their demands to be met at gunpoint but still, our doors are open for talks."

A Qadri follower who identified himself as Aziz complained: "This is democracy, this is democracy in Pakistan."

"It is more dangerous than military dictatorship, they don't allow people to make peaceful protests."

Addressing supporters earlier, former cricket hero Khan said: "I will not leave my people alone and keep fighting until we secure a real independence for Pakistan."

"The Sharif brothers have a lust for power. They are not sincere with the people or the country.

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