Thousands march against the US in Pakistan

Three die in day of unrest
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The Independent Online

Thousands of Pakistanis threatened war against the United States, and police fired tear gas at demonstrators, as Muslim parties launched nationwide strikes today in protest at Pakistan's support for Washington in its campaign against terrorism.

At least three civilians were killed and five policemen injured in clashes in Karachi

The demonstrations were called throughout Pakistan after its President, Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, gave his support to US efforts to apprehend alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and to break up his suspected terrorist network operating from neighboring Afghanistan.

In Karachi, the country's biggest city and commercial hub, police armed with iron–tipped sticks fired tear gas and clashed with protesters who were throwing stones and burning tires in several locations. At least 70 demonstrators were arrested and three people died, police said.

The largest rally to occur after Friday prayers at mosques around the city of 12 million people took place in the working–class neighborhood of Banaras Chowk, where about 10,000 protesters gathered. Some threw rocks that injured five policemen.

In other incidents, one person was killed when a security guard at a factory fired a gun at demonstrators who were trying to block a road in the Mauripur industrial district, and a shopkeeper was beaten to death by protesters when he refused to close his business for the strike, police said.

Elsewhere, several thousand people turned out as the anti–US and anti–Pakistan rallies began in the cities of Peshawar, Islamabad, Quetta and Lahore following services at mosques on the Muslim day of prayer. Some of the demonstrations were smaller than expected, and most started peacefully in cities whose markets remained closed and streets empty of traffic.

In Peshawar, as many as 10,000 people marched to the center of the northwestern city, screaming slogans against the U.S. and Pakistanis governments. They gathered in front of the main mosque where their religious leaders made speeches over a microphone supporting bin Laden and the hard–line Muslim Taliban leadership that has protected him and his followers in Afghanistan for years.

Jamming the streets, the protesters carried, then burned at least three life–size effigies of U.S. President George W. Bush and shouted slogans such as "Long live Osama."

"We will fight until the death and destruction of the United States," said one sign. "Crush America and Bush" said another.

Hundreds of people watched the procession from rooftops and balconies in a city where most people are Pashtun, the same ethnic group that dominates the Taliban.

As heavily armed police stood by and watched the rally, many stores outside the city centre defied the strike by remaining open for business.

In Karachi, the country's biggest city and commercial hub, police fired tear gas and beat people with iron–tipped sticks to disperse several small demonstrations by people who pelted vehicles with stones and blocked roads. At least 70 demonstrators were arrested, police said.

During the largest protest, about 500 Afghan refugees clashed with the police in Karachi's Sohrab Goth neighborhood. The Afghans burned tires and attacked the few vehicles on the streets.

Major markets in the city of 12 million people were closed, but several rallies held outside mosques after Friday prayers attracted small crowds of under 2,000.

In Islamabad, the capital, the Muslim service at the Lal Masjid mosque warned Gen. Musharraf not to cooperate with the United States. "Musharraf, listen: The nation will not accept your decision, and any collaboration with the United States is treason," the preacher told the worshippers.

After prayers, a crowd of about 3,000 gathered outside the mosque, carrying banners condemning the governments of the United States and Pakistan.

"Afghanistan is the graveyard of the Americans," they chanted, and vowed to join a "jihad," or holy war against the United States.

One demonstrator, Saiful Rehman, said: "We will go to fight against America because we stand by Mullah Omar (the Taliban leader) and his call for a jihad."

In the southwestern city of Quetta, several thousand people rallied outside the central mosque holding signs saying "Osama: Hero No. 1" and pictures of bin Laden. They chanted, "Death to America" and "America's graveyard: Afghanistan."