The political crisis in Pakistan escalated tonight with the third round of talks between government negotiators and Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf failing to break the logjam.
Giving a fresh ultimatum, the PTI demanded that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif step down for 30 days for an independent probe into the alleged rigging in last year's polls but this was outright rejected.
PTI's chief negotiator Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters after the meeting that if proved innocent Sharif can return to power. Government representative Ahsan Iqbal said the demand for resignation of the Prime Minister was not acceptable.
Thousands of supporters of PTI chief Khan and firebrand cleric Qadri continued to camp outside the parliament building in Islamabad as their protests enetered the 10th day on Saturday.
Pakistani media said government has suspended mobile phone services in the Red Zone in and around the National Assembly citing security reasons.
There are also reports of fresh efforts to block arterial roads leading to the protest site to prevent supporters of Khan and Qadri reaching there. Striking a defiant note, Khan told his supporters it was out of question to leave the capital without forcing Sharif to quit.
"If it is proved after 30 days that everything was ok, you can return as the PM. But you are not willing to take us up on the offer. That is because you are afraid that you will be found out," Khan was quoted as saying by Express Tribune.
Using the cricketing terminology, he promised to contest till the "last ball". His comments came after former President Asif Ali Zardari met Nawaz Sharif at the premier's residence in Lahore to discuss the political crisis and pledged to "protect democracy."
Briefing journalists after the meeting, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said Zardari had assured his full support to Sharif in resolving the crisis within the limits of the constitution and law.
"Nawaz Sharif welcomed Zardari at his residence. Zardari sahib has assured his full support to Mian sahib in resolving the issues with protesting parties," Dar said. To a question whether Zardari had asked Sharif to resign, Dar said, "There is no question of the PM's resignation.
Rather he extended his full support to the premier." Khan and fiery cleric Tahirul Qadri have separately launched protests from eastern city of Lahore on August 14 to dislodge the 15-month-old Nawaz Sharif government and have been camping in Islamabad since last Saturday with thousands of their supporters.
Separately, Qadri is also holding talks with another government team. He also wants Nawaz Sharif government to go. A government delegation met Qadri's team on Friday to discuss the demands of the cleric's Pakistan Awami Tehreek movement, but the PAT remained dissatisfied.
Their talks were dominated by the issue of the alleged murder of at least 10 PAT workers in clashes with police in Lahore in June, for which Qadri wants arrests made and a legal case launched.
The political crisis has paralysed the government and raised questions about Pakistan's democratic stability. The government enjoys a majority with ruling PML-N having 190 members in a House of 342.
Upping the ante against Sharif, Khan's 34 lawmakers had resigned from the National Assembly on Friday. The resignations do not affect the stability of the government.
After one round of talks on Wednesday both Khan's PTI and cleric Tahirul Qadri-led Pakistan Awami Tehreek had suspended dialogue with the government. This was resumed on Friday night but was inconclusive.