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Zardari backtracks, offers to hold talks to end crisis

world Updated: Mar 14, 2009 16:01 IST
PPP offers to hold talks with political parties

Faced with a worsening political crisis sparked by its confrontation with Opposition PML-N, the ruling Pakistan People's Party today offered to hold talks with all political parties to restore normalcy in the country.

The PPP made the offer after party leaders and federal ministers took stock of the political situation in the country during a meeting jointly presided over by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

PPP spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the meeting "reiterated the offer to the political forces in the country to negotiate with the government on how best to implement the provisions of the Charter of Democracy in letter and in spirit and to restore political normalcy".

The PPP hoped its offer "will be responded to positively by the political forces", Babar said in a statement.

Babar also told reporters that Zardari wanted a dialogue of political parties to arrive at a "final settlement" on all contentious issues.

The meeting, which began last night and continued till the early hours of this morning, was convened after Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani met Zardari and Gilani on Friday to discuss the political crisis triggered by the imposition of Governor's Rule in Punjab province last month.

The PPP-led government has also been rocked by a long march launched two days ago by the lawyers' movement and opposition political parties to press for the restoration of judges sacked by former President Pervez Musharraf during the 2007 emergency.

The organisers of the protest have vowed to march to Islamabad to stage a sit-in near parliament on March 16 despite the government banning all rallies and demonstrations. They have also said that the government has detained over 1,200 people to thwart the long march.

Babar said the meeting of the PPP's top leadership decided to "continue efforts to defuse the present political tension through dialogue, reconciliation, respect for the constitution and democratic principles and the commitments made in the Charter of Democracy", which was signed by the PML-N and PPP in 2006.

The meeting also resolved that the government would "protect the lives and property of the citizens and maintain law and order at all cost but not do anything that was unconstitutional or abridged the basic rights" of the people.

The government has already said it will bar the long march from entering the federal capital and crack down on anyone resorting to violence during the protest.

The PPP also decided to convene a meeting of its central executive committee on March 16 "to develop and fine tune an appropriate political response" to the evolving political situation, Babar said.

Zardari and Gilani also co-chaired a separate meeting yesterday that was attended by senior officers of the civil administration and police of Punjab, North West Frontier Province and Islamabad.

That meeting reviewed the law and order situation and security measures adopted to cope with the long march.

However, the meeting of the PPP's top leadership was followed by reports that Information Minister Sherry Rehman had resigned over the government's handling of the media. Rehman reportedly was upset by proposals made by other leaders in the meeting for imposing curbs on the media.