Utter chaos prevailed in the VIP area of the Pakistan capital late tonight with the 17-day-old standoff between protesters and the government taking a new turn after thousands of protesters armed with lathis broke through security cordons and were marching towards the residence of the beseiged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Police opened fire and used tear gas and lathicharged the protesters led by Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri, which had laid seige to key buildings such as the National Assembly and Supreme Court since August 14 suddenly used cutters to penetrate barbed wire barricades. One woman was killed in police firing and several protesters injured.
Close to midnight, turmoil prevailed in the heart of Islamabad after a number of demonstrators refused to disperse from the protest site.
As tension mounted, Sharif left for Lahore. A late night government announcement categorically ruled out Sharif's resignation.
Raising slogans against Sharif and his government, the protesters marched from the National Assembly to the Prime Minister's House shortly after Khan, chief of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Qadri, heading the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), announced a shift of the protest venue.
Before the protesters set off on their march, the Interior Ministry announced that soldiers would be deployed to stop the protesters. Both Khan and Qadri have been demanding the ouster of Sharif with Khan alleging that last year's general elections were rigged. "I will lead the march to the PM House. All my supporters should follow me," he said. He asked women and children to stay behind until asked by him to join the march.
Khan's announcement came soon after a similar decision by Qadri. Khan asked his supporters to remain peaceful and asked law enforcement agencies not to stop the protesters.