Pakistan's fiery cleric, govt strike deal

Qadri

Pakistan government today agreed to appoint a caretaker Prime Minister by consensus ahead of the next general election as part of a deal struck with fiery cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri to end his protest near parliament that had put intense pressure on the country's fragile coalition.

The five-point agreement was hammered out by Qadri and an 11-member government team after five hours of talks at the site of the protest by thousands of supporters of the cleric.

The ruling Pakistan People's Party and its allies conceded most of the demands made by Qadri, including the dissolution of the National Assembly and electoral reforms.

The agreement, which was signed by Qadri, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and the members of the government negotiating team, envisages a key role for the cleric's party, Pakistan Awami Tehreek, in electoral reforms and the appointment of a caretaker premier.

"The treasury benches, in complete consensus with Pakistan Awami Tehreek, will propose names of two honest and impartial persons for appointment as caretaker Prime Minister," the agreement said.

Qadri told his supporters that the caretaker premier would have to be chosen with "complete consensus" and his party would not be satisfied if it was only involved in consultations.

The National Assembly or lower house of parliament will be dissolved before it completes its term on March 16 so that the polls can take place within 90 days, the agreement said.

Qadri's demand for changes in the Election Commission will be discussed at a meeting between government leaders and Pakistan Awami Tehreek representatives in Lahore on January 27.

Law Minister Farooq Naek will convene a meeting of leading lawyers to discuss proposed changes to the poll panel.

A month will be given for scrutiny of nomination papers for "pre-clearance" of candidates under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution by the Election Commission.

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