Musharraf tries to contain angry Afghan refugees

War against terrorism: Protests
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The Independent Online

Pakistan deployed troops to patrol streets in the troubled city of Quetta on Thursday night in anticipation of a fresh wave of violent demonstrations against US-led attacks on Afghanistan by pro-Taliban Islamic groups.

The military government of General Pervez Musharraf, which has confirmed the presence of US forces in on its territory, warned it would not tolerate violent demonstrations when large crowds gather for Friday prayers today. A general strike has also been called by religious parties in support of Afghanistan.

"There is no way that the government will continue to stand for this loss of life and property," the government's spokesman, Maj-Gen Rashid Qureshi, said on Thursday.

Demonstrations earlier in the week led to government and UN buildings being torched and five people were killed.

Big numbers of worshippers generally gather at mosques for midday prayers on Friday, which is a half day of work for most Pakistanis, and the government is unlikely to try to stop any prayer gatherings.

"What one cannot tolerate is destructive forces then coming out and breaking or burning public property or causing damage to life," he said. "That will not be allowed."

A demonstration on Thursday in Karachi, a volatile city of some 12 million people, attracted about 2,000 people, although they dispersed quietly after burning effigies of U.S. President George Bush.

But the government played down the numbers involved in protesting against the US.

Maj-Gen Qureshi said no more than 100,000 of Pakistan's 140 million population were involved across the country in demonstrations.

Most of the demonstrators were Afghan refugees the government claimed, drawn from the more than two million inside Pakistan. They have been warned they face deportation.

Despite the government's attempts to portray the protests as the work of a fringe minority, Pakistan's largest Islamic party threatened a campaign to force General Musharraf out of power unless he abandons his support for US policy. Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami party promised three anti-government rallies: the first to be in Karachi on Monday, the second in the city of Peshawar on 19 October, and the third in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad on 21October.

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