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Pakistan cleric leading anti-government rally warns premier of 48-hour deadline to step down

Supporters of Pakistan's cricketer turned-politician Imran Khan rally in Karachi, Pakistan, Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. Thousands of Khan's and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri's supporters are besieging parliament in the capital to pressure Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign over alleged election fraud. (AP Photo/Shakil Adil)

ISLAMABAD – A Pakistani cleric leading a mass anti-government rally in front of parliament issued a 48-hour deadline Monday for the country’s prime minister to step down, saying he’s prepared to die to see it happen.

Tahir-ul-Qadri showed protesters a white burial shroud in a speech issuing the deadline for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has refused to step down.

“I am giving this deadline today as I am ready to be martyred and I have taken the last bath today,” Qadri said, making some female supporter cry.

It’s not clear what Qadri plans to do after his deadline expires, though some have feared protesters may try to enter parliament, which is protected by soldiers. That could set off a violent confrontation.

Qadri and opposition politician Imran Khan separately led tens of thousands of people from eastern city of Lahore to Islamabad, protesting against alleged vote fraud in the 2013 elections that brought Sharif to power.

Both Khan and Qadri, a dual Pakistani-Canadian citizen with a wide following, also demand reforms in Pakistan’s electoral system to prevent future vote fraud.

Backed by parliament and many political parties, Sharif has said he won’t step down. Government negotiators are trying to convince Qadri and Khan to end their protest and back off the demand for Sharif’s resignation.

Meanwhile, the country’s Supreme Court has ruled that the road in front of the parliament, the Supreme Court and other government buildings now hosting the protest be cleared of demonstrators.

While the crowds have fallen well short of 1 million marchers that both leaders promised, their presence and heightened security measures have affected life and badly harmed business in the capital. The rallies have nevertheless remained festive, with families picnicking and men and women dancing to drums and national songs.