Pakistan ex-PM Khan urges government to hold talks over snap polls

'A True freedom march' in Rawalpindi'

By Mubasher Bukhari

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan's former prime minister Imran Khan on Friday urged the government to hold talks to decide a date for an early election to end an impasse that has stoked political instability since his ousting in April.

The 70-year-old cricketer-turned-politician has been leading a countrywide agitation, demanding an early election following his removal in a parliamentary vote led by his united opposition.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who replaced Khan, has rejected the demand for the snap polls, saying that the election will be held as scheduled later next year.

Khan has lately threatened to dissolve parliaments in two provinces, which are ruled by his party and coalition partners.

"Either sit with us and talk as to when the next elections should be held, or else we will dissolve the assemblies," Khan said in an address to his party members telecast live.

The talks offer is a step back by Khan, who has previously been refusing to sit and negotiate anything with the coalition government, which contains former opposition parties he has said comprise a corrupt political elite. The parties reject that allegation.

Khan rode to power after winning a general election in 2018, which his opponents say he secured through a rigged ballot engineered by the country's powerful military, a charge both Khan and the military deny.

The dissolution of the two provincial parliaments could trigger a constitutional crisis in the South Asian nation, which is already facing political and economic instability.

The government has said it will hold elections in the two provinces if Khan decided to dissolve them.

In response to Khan's statement, Interior Minister Rana said the government could hold the talks sought by Khan, adding it was also ready to hold elections in the provinces in case the parliaments were dissolved.

Khan last week called off over a month-long protest march in his first public appearance since he was shot at and wounded in a gun-attack last month in November.

(Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Writing by Asif Shahzad, Editing by William Maclean)