Pakistanis reject bin Laden's "interference"

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Sep 21 (Reuters) A call from Osama bin Laden for holy war against Pakistan's president and army found resonance today among some in Pakistan's conservative north west but others rejected the cry for jihad as interference.

In a Web audio tape issued yesterday, a speaker purported to be bin Laden vowed to retaliate against ''infidel'' President Pervez Musharraf, his government and army for an assault on a radical mosque in the capital in July.

A militant cleric leading a Taliban-style movement and about 100 of his followers were killed when commandos stormed the Red Mosque compound to clear out gunmen.

Al Qaeda has in the past called for the assassination of Musharraf whose war-on-terror alliance with the United States is deeply unpopular in Pakistan, even among the vast majority who abhor militant violence.

''It's now obligatory on Pakistanis to wage jihad against Musharraf because he's pitting Muslims against Muslims for the sake of America,'' said Iqbal Hussain, a car washer in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Suicide attacks and abductions of members of the security forces have surged since the Red Mosque assault and the collapse of a 10-month peace pact in the North Waziristan area on the Afghan border.

''What's going on in Waziristan and the frequent suicide attacks are the result of Musharraf's policies. He doesn't want to give up power,'' Hussain said.

Abdullah Khan, a shopkeeper in the town of Chaman on the Afghan border said Musharraf had turned Pakistan into a ''slave of America''.

''Osama has given the right message because Musharraf is working on America's agenda in Pakistan. He's killing people in the name of the fight against terrorism,'' Khan said.

''The people should stand up against General Musharraf and remove him to stop Mulsim bloodshed.'' But such views were far from universal.

''General Musharraf's government is an internal issue of Pakistan. Osama bin Laden shouldn't interfere,'' said Abdul Ghani, 40, a Chaman car mechanic with a long black beard.

''CREATE CHAOS'' Another Chaman resident, Hafiz Abdul Qayyum, said bin Laden didn't believe in democracy.

''General Musharraf's policies are against Islam and Muslims but Pakistan is a democratic country and Musharraf should be removed through democratic means,'' he said.

Peshawar shopkeeper Gulfaraz said he did not support bin Laden: ''He just wants to create chaos which is un-Islamic.'' In the eastern city of Lahore, Pakistan's cultural centre, bin Laden's call for jihad was widely condemned.

''Osama has no right to issue such statements,'' said Punjab University student Maryam Ali.

Government official Sohail Nasir said bin Laden had much blood on his hands: ''He's responsible for killing tens of thousands of Muslims around the world and wants to get more Muslims killed through such statements.'' Khurram Shehzad, a film company production assistant, said bin Laden shouldn't try to be a champion of Islam.

''He should mind his own business,'' Shehzad said.

A military spokesman dismissed bin Laden's call as irrelevant.

REUTERS ARB AS1452

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