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Large anti-U.S. protests staged in Pakistan

Thousands of Islamic hard-liners on Friday protested a U.S. strike that targeted al-Qaida leaders in a Pakistani village, chanting their support for holy war and burning an effigy of President Bush.
/ Source: The Associated Press

About 8,000 Islamic hard-liners on Friday protested a U.S. missile strike that targeted al-Qaida leaders in a Pakistani village, chanting their support for holy war and burning an effigy of President Bush.

Protesters marched from two mosques to the center of the northwestern city of Peshawar, chanting “Death to America” and “Jihad is our way.” Speakers railed against last Friday’s attack near the Afghan border that killed 13 civilians and possibly several top al-Qaida operatives.

“Are you ready for jihad against America?” asked Dost Mohammed, a leader of the opposition Islamic coalition that was organizing demonstrations around Pakistan.

Hundreds of bearded protesters, most wearing white prayer caps, put their hands up.

“America is attacking Muslims in such a cowardly manner, attacking them in the middle of the night,” said another speaker, local poet Afzal Khan.

Hundreds of police carrying tear gas launchers and submachine guns looked on, some from rooftops. Protesters beat an effigy of Bush with sticks and set it on fire. There was no violence.

Series of protests
It was the latest in a series of protests against the airstrike. Others were planned Friday in the eastern city of Lahore and other towns in the North West Frontier province, whose capital is Peshawar.

The rallies were organized by a six-party religious alliance Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, or United Action Forum, which governs the conservative province and strongly opposes Pakistan’s support of the U.S.-led fight against terror.

Shahid Shamsi, a spokesman for the alliance, said demonstrators will also demand the withdrawal from Pakistan of U.S. troops assisting in relief efforts after an Oct. 8 earthquake that killed 87,000 people and left 3.5 million homeless. He accused the American forces of spying.

“Our protests will continue until the American troops go back,” Shamsi said.

Thousands of lawyers staged separate protests in several cities to denounce the airstrike and demand the resignation of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said Abdur Rahman Ansari, deputy chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council, the main association of lawyers in Pakistan.

About 100 lawyers protested in front of the Supreme Court in the capital of Islamabad, chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Musharraf,” Ansari said.

“It seems the country has no sovereignty ... The rulers have become like slaves,” he said. “Musharraf did not open his mouth to condemn the attack.”

Strike reportedly killed four militants
Pakistani authorities have said at least four foreign militants were killed in the airstrike in the village of Damadola, possibly including an al-Qaida explosives and chemical weapons expert and a relative of the terror network’s No. 2 leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

While the Pakistani government has condemned the attack and filed a protest with the U.S. Embassy, Musharraf has avoided publicly criticizing the United States.

Shamsi criticized Musharraf for “keeping quiet” over the attack.

Radical Islamic groups oppose Musharraf for supporting Washington in the fight against terrorism, including the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan that ousted the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden.

The religious coalition made stunning gains in parliamentary elections in 2002 on a platform opposing the United States and supporting the Taliban.