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Pakistan Gears Up for Massive Anti-U.S. Protests

Reposted from the Reuters wire.
Pakistan Gears Up for Massive Anti-U.S. Protests
By Scott McDonald

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - Anti-American protests spread in Pakistan Thursday as security forces prepared for massive demonstrations across the country Friday to oppose possible U.S. attacks on Afghanistan.

A decision by Afghanistan's senior Islamic clerics for Kabul to persuade Saudi Arabian-born militant Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) to leave looked unlikely to ease the angry mood.

Several dozen groups have called for the protests and a strike, expected to start after Friday prayers in Muslim Pakistan, to protest against U.S. pressure for the handover of bin Laden, until now a ``guest'' in Afghanistan.

Qazi Hussein Ahmed, head of Pakistan's largest Islamic party Jama'at-e-Islami, said the protests were also aimed at President Pervez Musharraf's decision to throw Islamabad's support behind the U.S. threats.

``This hasty decision made by the Pakistani government does not enjoy the support of the masses since this is tantamount to mortgaging the national sovereignty for mean and petty games,'' he told journalists in Islamabad.

``We are still going to protest,'' said Peshawar student Mohammad Abdul, adding he thought bin Laden was not responsible for last week's devastating attacks in New York and Washington and should not be forced to leave Afghanistan. ``There is no proof. America only wants to attack Afghanistan.''


Peshawar, a frontier city near the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan, saw its fourth day of protest Thursday as crowds took to the streets chanting anti-U.S. slogans and demanding that expected U.S. attacks on Afghanistan do not go ahead.

About 1,000 protesters chanted ``Death to America'' and ''Terrorist America'' as they marched through the old part of the city.

The main port city of Karachi was bracing itself for the planned strike, with 15,000 police on duty and troops surrounding the airport serving the country's financial capital.

``We have hoisted a red alert in the police,'' said Tariq Jameel, deputy inspector-general of police for Karachi.

Muslim clerics are pressurizing storekeepers not to open their shops, and wide swathes of North West Frontier Province on the border with Afghanistan are expected to close down.

There were more protests in towns in the scenic Swat valley in the north of the Frontier province, home to many religious parties, and also in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan which are mainly under no government control.

Some of the demonstrations were led by Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI), a pro-Taliban group that has been quoted in local media as implicating Israel in the attacks on the United States.


Thousands of enraged Afghan tribesmen also rallied Thursday, gathering at the Chaman border crossing in western Pakistan and vowing to defend their country.

The Shinwari tribe, which straddles the border in that area north of Quetta, pledged to send 5,000 men for a jihad (holy struggle) against the United States if it attacked Afghanistan, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported.

They chanted ``Long live Osama, long live Omar,'' a reference to bin Laden and the shadowy spiritual leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar.

Protest organizers said Musharraf's decision to support the United States, which protesters fear will ask to use Pakistani military bases for any attack, would stoke opposition fervor.

``If Musharraf is not willing to listen to the wishes and feelings of the people, there might be more strength in the protests and more anger in them,'' said Naveed Butt, a spokesman for the Hizbut Tahrir, which calls itself the largest Islamic party in the world.

``There will definitely be a nationwide strike, there will be a lot of protests and speeches as well,'' he said.



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