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Pakistan Government opens crisis talks with Muslim cleric

PAKISTAN'S coalition Government has opened talks with a Muslim cleric whose calls for the administration to resign have inspired thousands of protesters camped near parliament.

A spokesman for the cleric, Muhammad Tahirul Qadri, said a delegation was holding discussions in a bid to defuse a political crisis that erupted after he led a protest in the capital on Monday.

Mr Qadri is calling for the immediate resignation of the government and the installation of a caretaker administration in the run-up to elections due in the next few months.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's anti-corruption chief yesterday refused an order by the country's Supreme Court to arrest Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf in a graft case, saying he did not have sufficient evidence.

In a separate development, thousands of protesters shouting anti-military slogans displayed the bodies of 15 villagers in north-western Pakistan, claiming they were shot dead in their homes by security forces.

The villagers were killed late on Tuesday in an area known as Khyber Agency, part of the tribal region where the Pakistani military has been waging a campaign against Islamic militants.

An official with the Frontier Constabulary, which operates in the area, blamed militants for killing the villagers.

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