Sun, Jan 05, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Thousands of Pakistanis march in anti-US rallies

UNREST An Islamic coalition, which made huge gains in the October election, staged protests across the country to oppose Washington's policy against Iraq


Pakistani protestors chant anti- US slogans during a rally in Lahore Friday. Thousands of angry Pakistanis demonstrated across the country against the presence of US troops and intelligence agents in the region, and against a possible attack on Iraq.


Thousands of angry Pakistanis protested on Friday against the presence of US troops in the region, a possible attack on Iraq and what one banner called the "Holocaust of the Muslims."

Demonstrators also burnt an effigy of US President George W. Bush in nationwide protests organized by the six-party Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) hard-line Islamic coalition, which made huge gains in an October election by tapping anti-US sentiment.

In the largest rallies, police looked on as around 2,000 people gathered in the central city of Multan, and similar numbers gathered in Lahore and in Quetta, near the Afghan border, where opposition to US action in Afghanistan is strongest.

"War will continue until Bush's destruction," the crowd shouted in Multan, located in the populous Punjab province. "Bush is thirsty for Muslims' blood."

In Peshawar, another hotbed of anti-US sentiment, protesters burnt an effigy of Bush and shouted "No war on Iraq."

In the capital Islamabad, 800 men crowded near the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque). "Holocaust of the Muslims" read a banner there.

But the coalition could be disappointed at the turnout in an overwhelmingly Muslim country of 140 million people for what it hoped would be a major embarrassment for President Pervez Musharraf, a close US ally in its war against terror.

Islamic groups were infuriated when the general backed Washington in its fight against the Afghan Taliban regime, which was armed and trained by Pakistan.

The MMA, whose election successes gave it control of the North West Frontier Province and a share of power in Baluchistan, both bordering Afghanistan, counts pro-Taliban clerics among its leaders.

Musharraf has said a strike against Iraq would have negative repercussions across the Muslim world. A series of fatal attacks on Christian and Western targets in Pakistan last year was blamed on Islamic militants opposed to his pro-US stance.

Resentment among Pakistanis has intensified in recent days following the arrest of nine family members in a case involving US Federal Bureau of Investigation agents operating in Pakistan.

The US military also bombed a religious seminary near the Afghan-Pakistan frontier at the weekend following a shootout between a man dressed as a Pakistan border guard and US troops in which one American soldier was wounded.

Pakistani officials say the bomb fell on Pakistani territory, but the US says it fell on Afghan soil. The US army announced it had the right to pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects into Pakistan if they fled from Afghanistan.

In Islamabad, Maulana Samiul Haq, whose religious school nurtured thousands of Taliban members before they crossed into Afghanistan, called for FBI agents to be hanged publicly if they repeated raids and arrests at homes of suspected militants.

MMA vice president Qazi Hussain Ahmed told demonstrators in Peshawar: "After Iraq there will be Iran, and after Iran then Pakistan and afterwards Saudi Arabia. There is a need for all Muslim countries to join hands and forge unity."

Hafiz Saeed, leader of the outlawed Lashkar-i-Taiba militant group, earlier told worshipers attending Friday prayers in Multan that Muslims were being victimized .

"Muslims if you do not open your eyes now, you will be overwhelmed by Jews, Christians and Indians," Saeed, freed from house arrest late last year, said.

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