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Pakistan: Situation remains tense

3 people were killed when thousands of protesters tried to storm PM Nawaz Sharif’s residence.

Chairman of Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaaf party (PTI), Imran Khan, addresses thousands of people at Azadi Square outside the country's Parliament in August 2014. Picture: Official PTI Facebook page.

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's army says any further use of force in efforts to resolve an escalating political crisis will only worsen the situation.

At least three people were killed when peaceful anti-government demonstrations turned violent after thousands of protestors tried to storm Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's residence.

The protestors are calling for Sharif to resign.

They've accused him of corruption and rigging last year's election.

US Institute for Peace's Moeed Yusuf says there's no need to worry about a military takeover in the country.

"I don't think the military is interested in taking over. They have essentially got control over everything without being on the front lines and given the situation in the country and that they are caught up with the terrorism fight on the western border of Pakistan, so I don't think they want to do that.

Nobody is really seriously worried about that but what is already there is that the military is in the front centre because the politicians are unable to resolve their crisis themselves."

Peaceful anti-government demonstrations spilled over into deadly confrontation overnight after thousands of protesters tried to storm Sharif's residence. Police responded with teargas and rubber bullets. At least three people were killed and more than 200 wounded, further angering protest leaders.

Activists demanding Sharif's resignation have camped outside government offices for more than two weeks but it was the first time violence broke out as protesters, some armed with sticks and wearing gas masks, tried to break through police lines.

Army chiefs held an emergency meeting in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Sunday night to discuss the crisis, prompting speculation that the military could take decisive action to end the crisis in a nation where power has usually changed hands via coups rather than elections.

But in a brief statement, the army reaffirmed its commitment to democracy and said the crisis had to be solved politically.

"Further use of force will only aggravate the problem. It was once again reiterated that the situation should be resolved politically without wasting any time and without recourse to violent means," it said.

Small skirmishes continued into Sunday, with police occasionally firing teargas, but the crowd massing outside parliament appeared peaceful on Sunday night, with some dancing or sleeping on the grass.

Smaller protests were also reported in the city of Lahore, Sharif's political power base, and other parts of Pakistan.

How the crisis ends and whether Sharif survives ultimately lies in the military's hands in a country ruled by generals for half of its history.

With tensions rising, last week the army said it was asked by the government to help defuse the crisis but has so far not directly intervened. It was unclear how the deadlock could be resolved with the opposition flatly refusing to leave the streets until Sharif quits.

Sharif, who swept to office last year in Pakistan's first democratic transition of power, has resisted calls to resign while agreeing to meet other demands such as an investigation into suspicions of fraud during last year's election.

His office reiterated on Sunday evening that his resignation was out of the question.

"It was agreed that this undemocratic onslaught should be withdrawn and parties should come back to the negotiation table," his press office said in a statement after Sharif chaired a meeting with his top officials.

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