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Pakistan MPs Back PM Sharif as Protest Leaders Agree to Open Dialogue

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Members of Pakistan’s Parliament, representing several different political parties that don’t always see eye to eye, came together to express support for embattled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a joint session convened on Tuesday.

The session, which the Prime Minister’s Office reportedly said would continue until the end of the week, comes after more than two weeks of protests championed by former national cricket captain Imran Khan and firebrand cleric Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri that have convulsed the capital, Islamabad.

Khan and Qadri allege that the country’s historic 2013 election was rigged, and say they will not back down until the Sharif resigns. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar called the ongoing protests a “rebellion against Pakistan,” reports Reuters.

Senator Aitzaz Ahsan, the leader of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party, said the entire legislature was behind Sharif.

The movement turned violent over the weekend as protesters clashed with police and took over a television station, prompting the army to briefly step in and restore order. Three people were killed and around 400 injured.

But the nation’s capital has been peaceful since Tuesday, with both sides reaching an impasse of sorts. Local news outlet Dawn reported that protesters camped in the “red zone” in front of the Pakistani Secretariat building prevented government officials from entering their offices. However, the parking lot was reportedly cleared of protesters Wednesday morning in order for the joint session of Parliament to resume.

Khan and members of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party also agreed to engage in an “open dialogue” with a group of opposition leaders.

Earlier in the day, Qadri reiterated the demonstrators’ denial that they were taking orders from Pakistan’s powerful generals. “Anyone who says the army is behind us is wrong,” he said.

Hassan Abbas, a professor at National Defense University and author of The Taliban Revival, says the army’s influence is blown out of proportion. “The army is sympathetic to Khan and has certainly some influence over the party, but to argue that Khan is being run by the military sounds to me as an exaggerated assessment,” he tells TIME.

And while Abbas says the protesters have some legitimate demands, their methods fall “outside what is permissible under the law of the land.”

Sharif has not yet addressed Parliament, but reports say he may do so before the session concludes this week.

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