Islamabad: Cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri today gave the Pakistan government a 90-minute deadline to act on his demands to quit and dissolve the national and provincial assemblies amidst increasing signs that support for his protest was dwindling.
"I am giving the government a deadline of one-and-half hours. You don't have any more time. The deadline will end at 3 pm, when I will announce my next action," Qadri told thousands of his supporters camping on Jinnah Avenue, Islamabad's main boulevard near the presidency and parliament.
"People should come out to save democracy, Constitution and law and for the poor people's right. At 3 pm, I will announce the final action," he said.
Qadri gave no indication of what he intended to do if he government failed to meet his deadline.
"There will be no protest or sit-in tomorrow. We have to finish it by the end of this day. I am giving talks, peace and democracy a final chance," he said.
Qadri demanded that President Asif Ali Zardari should respond to his offer of talks.
The cleric, who heads the Minhaj-ul-Quran organisation, and his followers have been staging a sit-in near parliament since Tuesday.
Since he marched from Lahore to Islamabad with his supporters, Qadri set several deadlines for action on his demands that have been consistently ignored by the government.
As he delivered his speech today, media commentators noted that Qadri was speaking from inside his bulletproof and heated container while his supporters stood outside in pouring rain, braving the bitter cold of winter. Over the past two days, there has been considerable criticism of Qadri in the media and social networking websites for bringing scores of women and children for the protest in Islamabad.
Many of the protestors have been sitting out in the cold and sleeping in the open.
The ruling Pakistan People's Party has insisted that Qadri's demands cannot be implemented without violating the Constitution.
Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira has pointed out that Qadri was demanding sweeping electoral rolls even though the cleric cannot himself contest polls in Pakistan as he is a Canadian national.
The PPP's efforts to stand up to Qadri received a shot in the arm yesterday after opposition parties led by the PML-N said they would oppose any unconstitutional or unlawful attempt to derail the democratic system.
Though Qadri has claimed he has the support of "millions", the number of supporters at the protest in Islamabad has dwindled over the past two days.
Only die-hard supporters and workers of Minhaj-ul-Quran are currently participating in the sit-in.
Amidst speculation last night that the government would use security forces to disperse the protestors, President Zardari announced that force would not be used to end Qadri's sit-in.