Sun, Feb 19, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Pakistani police fire on protesters

AP AND AFP , ISLAMABAD AND MULTAN, PAKISTAN

Police fired on a crowd trying to burn shops yesterday in eastern Pakistan in a protest against the Prophet Mohammed cartoons, injuring at least four people, police said.

The demonstration in Chaniot, a town in Punjab Province, was part of a series of protests across Pakistan that have killed at least five people in the past week.

Hundreds gathered in Chaniot, blocking roads, burning tires and pelting police with stones, said Mohammad Ishaq, a local police official. Officers fired on the protesters when they tried to burn shops and four were injured, he said.

"We are trying to control the situation," Ishaq said.

Arfan Munir, a doctor at a government hospital, said that four casualties had been brought in with gunshot wounds and two were in critical condition.

He gave no other details, but residents said unrest was increasing in the religiously conservative city. Angry about the shooting, more people were going into the streets, chanting slogans against police and the government, they said.

Emotions have been running high in this Islamic nation of 150 million. Political and hard-line religious groups have organized rallies against the cartoons, published by several Western media outlets in recent months.

Islamic traditions bar drawings of Mohammed -- favorable or otherwise -- in a policy to discourage idolatry.

On Friday, Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi, a Pakistani cleric in the northwestern city of Peshawar, announced a US$1 million bounty for killing a cartoonist who drew Mohammed. He did not name the cartoonist and did not appear aware that 12 different people had drawn the pictures for the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, which first published them in September.

As the tension rose over the cartoons, authorities in Pakistan stepped up security for foreign missions, churches and other installations ahead of a rally today against cartoons in the capital, Islamabad.

Yesterday, Mian Mohammad Aslam, a lawmaker from a coalition of six religious parties called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) said in a statement that police had started arresting their supporters in an effort to foil today's rally. However, Aslam said the rally would take place as planned.

MMA called on the government to end diplomatic relations with Denmark.

"We disagree with the policy of President Pervez Musharraf," MMA spokesman Shahid Shamsi said. "Musharraf should completely snap diplomatic relations with Denmark."

The alliance was to hold a demonstration in the southern port city of Karachi later yesterday and vowed to continue such protests if the government did not act on its demands.

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