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Pakistan army to mediate between PM, protesters

  • A supporter of Pakistan's cricket celebrity-turned-politician Imran Khan rally against government in Lahore, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014.  Pakistani police have registered allegations of abetting murder against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother over the June killing of 14 supporters of a cleric who is currently leading thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Islamabad. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

    A supporter of Pakistan's cricket celebrity-turned-politician Imran Khan rally against government in Lahore, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered allegations of abetting murder against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother over the June killing of 14 supporters of a cleric who is currently leading thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Islamabad. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

  • Supporters of Pakistan's cricket celebrity-turned-politician Imran Khan rally against government in Lahore, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014.  Pakistani police have registered allegations of abetting murder against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother over the June killing of 14 supporters of a cleric who is currently leading thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Islamabad. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

    Supporters of Pakistan's cricket celebrity-turned-politician Imran Khan rally against government in Lahore, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered allegations of abetting murder against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother over the June killing of 14 supporters of a cleric who is currently leading thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Islamabad. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

  • Thousands of supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri listen to their leader during a sit-in protest near the parliament building, seen in background, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered a murder case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, key cabinet members and senior officials on charges of abetting 14 murders of the supporters of a fiery cleric who has been leading for two weeks thousands of anti-government protests in capital Islamabad. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

    Thousands of supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri listen to their leader during a sit-in protest near the parliament building, seen in background, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered a murder case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, key cabinet members and senior officials on charges of abetting 14 murders of the supporters of a fiery cleric who has been leading for two weeks thousands of anti-government protests in capital Islamabad. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

  • Supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, stand guard near a stage wearing burial shrouds during a sit-in protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014.   Pakistani police have registered a murder case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, key cabinet members and senior officials on charges of abetting 14 murders of the supporters of a fiery cleric who has been leading for two weeks thousands of anti-government protests in capital Islamabad.  (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

    Supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, stand guard near a stage wearing burial shrouds during a sit-in protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered a murder case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, key cabinet members and senior officials on charges of abetting 14 murders of the supporters of a fiery cleric who has been leading for two weeks thousands of anti-government protests in capital Islamabad. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

  • A girl wears a shirt with the picture of Pakistan's cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan as she takes part in a protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered a murder case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, key cabinet members and senior officials on charges of abetting 14 murders of the supporters of a fiery cleric who has been leading for two weeks thousands of anti-government protests in capital Islamabad. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

    A girl wears a shirt with the picture of Pakistan's cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan as she takes part in a protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered a murder case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, key cabinet members and senior officials on charges of abetting 14 murders of the supporters of a fiery cleric who has been leading for two weeks thousands of anti-government protests in capital Islamabad. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

  • Supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri listen to their leader during a sit-in protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014.   Pakistani police have registered a murder case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, key cabinet members and senior officials on charges of abetting 14 murders of the supporters of a fiery cleric who has been leading for two weeks thousands of anti-government protests in capital Islamabad. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

    Supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri listen to their leader during a sit-in protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered a murder case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, key cabinet members and senior officials on charges of abetting 14 murders of the supporters of a fiery cleric who has been leading for two weeks thousands of anti-government protests in capital Islamabad. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

  • Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri shows a copy of Pakistan's constitution which he claims it was violated by rulers,  during a sit-in protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014.  Tahir-ul-Qadri emerged from a late night round with government representatives to tell his followers early on Thursday that the talks have failed.  The cleric and Pakistan's cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan have been leading mass rallies for two weeks in Islamabad. They want Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif' to resign over allegations of vote fraud in last year's elections. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

    Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri shows a copy of Pakistan's constitution which he claims it was violated by rulers, during a sit-in protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Tahir-ul-Qadri emerged from a late night round with government representatives to tell his followers early on Thursday that the talks have failed. The cleric and Pakistan's cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan have been leading mass rallies for two weeks in Islamabad. They want Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif' to resign over allegations of vote fraud in last year's elections. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

  • Supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri listen to their leader during a sit-in protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered a murder case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, key cabinet members and senior officials on charges of abetting 14 murders of the supporters of a fiery cleric who has been leading for two weeks thousands of anti-government protests in capital Islamabad. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

    Supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri listen to their leader during a sit-in protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered a murder case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, key cabinet members and senior officials on charges of abetting 14 murders of the supporters of a fiery cleric who has been leading for two weeks thousands of anti-government protests in capital Islamabad. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

  • A supporter of Pakistan's cricket celebrity-turned-politician Imran Khan takes part in an anti-government rally with writing on her forehead  "Go Nawaz Go," in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered allegations of abetting murder against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother over the June killing of 14 supporters of a cleric who is currently leading thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Islamabad. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil)

    A supporter of Pakistan's cricket celebrity-turned-politician Imran Khan takes part in an anti-government rally with writing on her forehead "Go Nawaz Go," in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered allegations of abetting murder against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother over the June killing of 14 supporters of a cleric who is currently leading thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Islamabad. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil)

  • A supporter of Pakistan's cricket celebrity-turned-politician Imran Khan rally against government in Lahore, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014.  Pakistani police have registered allegations of abetting murder against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother over the June killing of 14 supporters of a cleric who is currently leading thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Islamabad. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)
  • Supporters of Pakistan's cricket celebrity-turned-politician Imran Khan rally against government in Lahore, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014.  Pakistani police have registered allegations of abetting murder against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother over the June killing of 14 supporters of a cleric who is currently leading thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Islamabad. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)
  • Thousands of supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri listen to their leader during a sit-in protest near the parliament building, seen in background, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered a murder case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, key cabinet members and senior officials on charges of abetting 14 murders of the supporters of a fiery cleric who has been leading for two weeks thousands of anti-government protests in capital Islamabad. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)
  • Supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, stand guard near a stage wearing burial shrouds during a sit-in protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014.   Pakistani police have registered a murder case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, key cabinet members and senior officials on charges of abetting 14 murders of the supporters of a fiery cleric who has been leading for two weeks thousands of anti-government protests in capital Islamabad.  (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)
  • A girl wears a shirt with the picture of Pakistan's cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan as she takes part in a protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered a murder case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, key cabinet members and senior officials on charges of abetting 14 murders of the supporters of a fiery cleric who has been leading for two weeks thousands of anti-government protests in capital Islamabad. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)
  • Supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri listen to their leader during a sit-in protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014.   Pakistani police have registered a murder case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, key cabinet members and senior officials on charges of abetting 14 murders of the supporters of a fiery cleric who has been leading for two weeks thousands of anti-government protests in capital Islamabad. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)
  • Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri shows a copy of Pakistan's constitution which he claims it was violated by rulers,  during a sit-in protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014.  Tahir-ul-Qadri emerged from a late night round with government representatives to tell his followers early on Thursday that the talks have failed.  The cleric and Pakistan's cricket-star-turned-politician Imran Khan have been leading mass rallies for two weeks in Islamabad. They want Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif' to resign over allegations of vote fraud in last year's elections. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)
  • Supporters of Pakistani Muslim cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri listen to their leader during a sit-in protest near the parliament building in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered a murder case against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Shahbaz, key cabinet members and senior officials on charges of abetting 14 murders of the supporters of a fiery cleric who has been leading for two weeks thousands of anti-government protests in capital Islamabad. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)
  • A supporter of Pakistan's cricket celebrity-turned-politician Imran Khan takes part in an anti-government rally with writing on her forehead  "Go Nawaz Go," in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014. Pakistani police have registered allegations of abetting murder against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother over the June killing of 14 supporters of a cleric who is currently leading thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Islamabad. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil)

Pakistan’s powerful military returned to the political arena yesterday, agreeing to mediate between the government and protesters who have camped out in the capital for two weeks demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over alleged voting fraud.

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, who have led parallel anti-government protests, met with army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif late yesterday after saying they had agreed to his role as “mediator and guarantor” in talks with the premier.

The move marks a tentative return to politics for the military barely a year after Sharif became prime minister in Pakistan’s first democratic transfer of power. The country has a long history of political turmoil and military interventions in politics, and Sharif himself was removed from office during a previous stint as prime minister in a military coup in 1999.

This time around, he has sought to assert his independence from the military with friendly policies toward Pakistan’s longtime rival India and an attempt to negotiate peace with Taliban insurgents, which made little progress.

His decision to bring treason charges against the former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who overthrew him in 1999, is believed to have angered the military.

But his main challenge over the past two weeks has come from the protests, which at their height brought tens of thousands of people into the capital’s so-called Red Zone, where they camped outside parliament and demanded he resign over alleged fraud in last year’s election.

Pakistani Defense Minister Khwaja Mohammad Asif welcomed the offer of mediation, which came after the premier asked the military to broker talks.

“I think we should view it positively that the army is playing a constitutional and legal role,” he told Pakistan’s GeoNews TV.

It was not immediately clear whether the military would be able to broker a deal. After the meeting, Khan said the general told him the army would guarantee an independent and impartial judicial probe into the allegations of vote fraud. But Khan said he “made it clear” that “there can’t be an independent investigation so long as Nawaz Sharif is prime minister.”

The decision to invite the army to mediate came after direct talks with the two protest leaders collapsed earlier yesterday, with Qadri, a popular Pakistani-Canadian cleric, saying he had “shut the door” on further talks with the government.

It also came after the police filed charges of abetting murder against the prime minister and others over the killing of 14 Qadri supporters during clashes with the police in June in the eastern city of Lahore.

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