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Thousands rally, others barred in Pakistan protest

Written by: Staff

LAHORE, Pakistan, Feb 26: Thousands of Islamists rallied in southern Pakistan today against cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad, but police quickly snuffed out a protest in Lahore, where two people died in earlier unrest.

Police fired tear gas to disperse around 100 young Islamists as they tried to defy a government ban on rallies in the eastern city.

Up to 70 protesters were detained.

Shouting ''Death to America'', ''Death to Denmark'' and ''Death to European countries'', more than 10,000 Islamists rallied in the southern city of Karachi to denounce the cartoons, published first in Denmark and reproduced in several European countries.

''This protest will continue until European countries and the newspapers which published these cartoons offer an apology to the Muslim world,'' Fazal-ur-Rehman, secretary-general of the main Islamist alliance, Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), said from Islamabad in a phone call relayed by loudspeakers to the crowd.

Authorities earlier prevented Rehman, a fiery orator, from boarding a plane for Lahore to lead the protest there.

Qazi Hussain Ahmed, head of MMA, was detained in his party office in Lahore on Friday.

Defying the restrictions, Ahmed came out of the office today to lead the protest but authorities again detained him.

Police also detained cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan, and Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, founder of the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, in Lahore.

Earlier in the day, more than 100 MMA activists were detained in Lahore to prevent them from holding the rally, Amir Zulfiqar, a senior superintendent of police, told Reuters.


Paramilitary troops and police were out in force at all main roads of Lahore and had blocked the roads leading to the headquarters of Jamaat-e-Islami, a major component of six-party MMA.

The cartoons have ignited protests worldwide by Muslims who believe it is blasphemous to depict the Prophet.

But the unrest in Pakistan has also increasingly targeted President Pervez Musharraf's military-led government for its alliance with the US-led war on terrorism.

Musharraf met a group of Muslim clerics yesterday and said his government would represent the sentiments of Muslims in international forums.

''We believe that such publications under the pretext of freedom of the press cannot be justified,'' the official Associated Press of Pakistan quoted him as saying.

Two people died in violent protests in Lahore this month and three more in protests in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The MMA has called for a countrywide strike on March 3, just before an expected visit to Islamabad by US President George W Bush.

Musharraf told the clerics he would discuss the issue with Bush.


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