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Pakistan's crackdown on protests creates fissures in ruling party

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Islamabad, Pakistan - As the political crisis deepens in Pakistan, President Asif Ali Zardari offered an olive branch Saturday night to his main opposition rival, Nawaz Sharif.  But the gesture failed to peel away Mr. Sharif's backing for a growing protest movement led by the nation's lawyers.

Instead, Mr. Zardari appears to face discontent within his own party following his government's efforts to suppress the protests.

Three high-profile members of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) have broken ranks since the start of the lawyers‚ "long march" on Thursday.

The most dramatic departure came late Friday when Information Minister Sherry Rehman left the government without explanation. Ms. Rehman, a former journalist, resigned not long after the private cable TV channel Geo reported efforts by the government to block and move its signal.

Demonstrators gathered in front of the press clubs in Islamabad and Rawalpindi Saturday to show solidarity for journalists. The government has declared a ban on public gatherings, but police in and around the capital have not cracked down yet. Other suppression efforts include the arrest of activists and opposition party members, and the positioning of truck containers on roads to seal off access to the capital.

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