A populist Pakistani cleric calling for electoral reforms announced that a mass sit-in of tens of thousands of people camped outside parliament in Islamabad would end Thursday.
Canadian-Pakistani academic and preacher Tahirul Qadri gave the government until 3pm to negotiate on his demands for key reforms, after which he said he would announce a further course of action.
As he spoke, heavy rain deluged his supporters, who have been camped out on the road and grassy verges of the main commercial avenue in Islamabad since early Tuesday, many cowering under sheets to fend off the bad weather.
"The situation does not allow me to put all the people, young people, children, women to further test. I give the government, I give the rulers a deadline of one and a half hours. This deadline will end at 3pm. Then we will announce our next action," Qadri said.
"Today is the last day of this sit-in. Tomorrow there will be no sit-in. We have to end it today."
Qadri wants parliament dissolved and a caretaker government set up in consultation with the military and judiciary to implement key reforms before free elections can be held.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik threatened overnight to disperse the crowd, but President Asif Ali Zardari quickly intervened to say that force would not be used.
"I want to give negotiations a last chance. I want to give peace a last chance and I want to give democracy a last chance," said Qadri.
The government has so far stuck to its position that parliament will disband in mid-March to make way for a caretaker government, set up in consultation with political parties, and elections within 60 days, sometime by mid-May.