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Muslim League-N Chief, Nawaz Sharif addresses media representatives during a press conference after the 'All Opposition Parties meeting' in Lahore on Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013. —Photo by PPI

RAIWIND: Pakistan’s opposition parties have vowed to stay united to protect democracy in the face of “conpiracies being hatched to derail the democratic process.”

At least 25,000 people are estimated to be taking part in the largest rally in the capital since the current government took office in 2008 and leader Tahir-ul Qadri, who has called for the government’s immediate resignation, on Wednesday urged mainstream politicians to support his cause.

But the leader of Pakistan’s opposition, Nawaz Sharif, announced after consultations with main opposition parties that they would not be joining Qadri in a move that appeared to isolate the populist cleric.

“This meeting demands from the government that an election schedule and caretaker set-up should be announced without any delay and dates for these events specified forthwith,” Sharif, who was unseated as prime minister by a military coup in 1999, announced at a news conference in Lahore.

The joint consultative meeting of all major opposition parties expressed the resolve to hold general elections on time and to not accept any delay in the polls.

The session vowed to continue upholding the rule of the law and the Constitution at all costs.

Qadri wants parliament dissolved now and a caretaker government set up in consultation with the military and judiciary to implement reforms such as setting up a new election commission and banning corrupt candidates.

But Sharif defended the current election commission, saying: “People should refrain from making any demands which are not in the ambit of the constitution.”

Addressing the session, Sharif, who heads the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N), the main opposition party in the National Assembly, said that his party was not working for power but for democracy.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) said that all parties would collectively condemn any unconstituitional step. He said that, instead of delaying polls, the government should immediately announce date for general elections.

Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) chief Syed Munawwar Hassan said that non-democratic forces should not be given any chances. Mehmood Khan Achakzai of the Pakhtun Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) remarked that politics had no room for ‘clowns’. The session was also attended by Talal Akbar Bugti, Hamid Nasir Chattha, Haroon Akhtar, among other opposition leaders.

A statement was issued from Prime Minister office later on Wednesday, with PM Raja Pervez Ashraf welcoming the opposition parties’ position.