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Pakistan protests: Islamabad demonsratators call for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign

Former cricketer and opposition leader Imran Khan has also held a sit-in

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters converged on the centre of Pakistan's capital yesterday, vowing to stay in the streets until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resigns.

Riot police cordoned off two streets in downtown Islamabad with shipping containers and barbed wire. Protest organisers say they are peaceful but determined.

"We want Pakistan to be a peaceful state through our democratic revolution," populist cleric Tahir ul-Qadri told his followers.

His supporters said they would not leave until Mr Qadri told them to. Most of the men carried stout sticks a few feet long. Brigades of men and women in fluorescent jackets had gas masks, swimming goggles and bottles of water.

Mr Qadri, a cleric and political activist who usually lives in Canada, controls a network of schools and Islamic charities. He wants the Prime Minister to resign and a new government of technocrats installed. He promises his supporters he will crack down on corruption, and provide homes, jobs, cheap energy and water.

Former cricketer Imran Khan, who heads the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party, was also holding a smaller sit-in on an adjacent street. Both Mr Khan and Mr Qadri have vowed to bring one million people to the streets.

Mr Khan also wants Mr Sharif to step down, accusing him of rigging last year's elections. Mr Sharif won 190 out of 342 seats. Mr Khan took 34 seats, the third largest bloc in the legislature. But he says he should have had many more.

"I will not leave here until I have got real freedom for the country," Mr Khan told supporters yesterday.