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September 21, 2017

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Thousands of Pakistani protesters press demands

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Thousands of opposition demonstrators crowded the streets of the Pakistani capital for a second day Sunday, after a populist cleric issued a 48-hour ultimatum demanding the arrest of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Protesters led by cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri and cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan have converged on Islamabad from the eastern city of Lahore to press their demands.

Security in Islamabad has been ramped up, with some 30,000 police and other security forces on the streets.

The government has agreed to let the two groups hold rallies but many streets have been blocked off with shipping containers to protect sensitive areas.

Khan Saturday called on Sharif to step down, lashing out at a government which he claims won power fraudulently in last year's general election.

Khan was due to outline his party's demands during an address to protesters later Sunday, Shireen Mazari, a spokeswoman for his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, told AFP.

"We will not go back until all our demands are accepted," Khan said earlier, calling for all the officials involved in alleged vote-rigging to be tried for treason.

Late Saturday he also warned Sharif to resign, saying his supporters would otherwise enter on Sunday the capital's high security "Red Zone" where top government buildings and embassies are located.

The May 2013 general election saw Sharif take power in a landslide, and international observers who monitored the polls said they were free and credible.

The protests are the culmination of a "long march" — in reality a motorized cavalcade — that set off Thursday from Lahore, around 300 kilometers (190 miles) away, to try to topple the government.

But the fiery speeches by Khan and Qadri were not matched by manpower. Just thousands of protesters remained in the capital as of Sunday evening as against a million people promised by the pair.

'Don't derail democracy'

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