Islamabad: Pakistan's fiery cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri on Thursday announced that an agreement has been struck with the government to end his four-day protests that had increased pressure on the country's fragile coalition government.
After five hours of talks with a 10-member team of federal ministers and leaders of parties in the Pakistan People's Party-led government, Qadri told his supporters that the two sides had finalized an " Islamabad Long March Declaration".
Qadri said the document would be read out at the site of the protest on Jinnah Avenue, the main boulevard of Islamabad, after it was signed by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf.
Qadri's supporters began celebrating and shouting slogans after he had spoken.
The team that negotiated with Qadri included information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, law minister Farooq Naek, commerce minister Amin Fahim, religious affairs minister Khurshid Shah, PML(Q) chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and senior Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Farooq Sattar.
The talks were held inside Qadri's bulletproof container. Footage on television showed Qadri and the government leaders, visible through the large windows of the container, engaged in hectic consultations.
Earlier in the day, Qadri extended a deadline he had set for the government to act on his demands to quit and dissolve the national and provincial assemblies after being contacted by emissaries for a dialogue.
Qadri had given the government a 90-minute deadline to act on his demands by 3 pm.
As the deadline ended, he addressed his supporters camping on Jinnah Avenue and said he had given the government time till 3.45pm.
he head of the Tehrik Minhaj-ul-Quran urged his supporters not to leave till the talks were completed and a written agreement was hammered out.
He said he had set only one condition for talks — that interior minister Rehman Malik should not be part of the government delegation.
"We will leave only after victory," he said. Qadri and his followers have been staging a sit-in near parliament since Tuesday.
Since he marched from Lahore to Islamabad with his supporters, Qadri has set several deadlines for action on his demands that have been consistently ignored by the government.
As he delivered his speech on Thursday, media commentators noted that Qadri was speaking from inside his bulletproof and heated container while his supporters stood outside in pouring rain, braving the bitter cold of winter.
Over the past two days, there has been considerable criticism of Qadri in the media and social networking websites for bringing scores of women and children for the protest in Islamabad.
Many of the protestors have been sitting out in the cold and sleeping in the open.
The ruling PPP has insisted that Qadri's demands cannot be implemented without violating the Constitution.
Information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira has pointed out that Qadri was demanding sweeping electoral rolls even though the cleric cannot himself contest polls in Pakistan as he is a Canadian national.
The PPP's efforts to stand up to Qadri received a shot in the arm yesterday after opposition parties led by the PML(N) said they would oppose any unconstitutional or unlawful attempt to derail the democratic system.