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Islamists promise protests as Bush meets Musharraf

Written by: Staff
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ISLAMABAD, Mar 4: Anti-US Islamist parties promised more protests today, as President George W Bush prepared to round off a South Asian tour in Pakistan by urging President Pervez Musharraf to do more in the war on terrorism.

Mr Bush arrived in Islamabad late yesterday, a day after a suicide car bomber killed an American diplomat and two other people outside the US consulate in the southern city of Karachi. he met Mr Musharraf at the President's heavily guarded compound. The US leader walked along a red carpet past a Pakistani honour guard in blue uniforms standing at attention and flanked by guards on horseback.

A helicopter circled low over central Islamabad from early in the morning and many police, including riot police, were posted at intersections and on rooftops in the small, leafy capital.

There were no immediate reports of protests today in Islamabad or elsewhere.

Islamist Pakistani politicians, some of whom have ties with Pakistani militant groups as well as Taliban insurgents fighting US forces in Afghanistan, succeeded in paralysing the country yesterday with a widely observed strike call.

While Mr Bush now calls Mr Musharraf his ''buddy'', they were only brought together by the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States. That was when Mr Bush forced Pakistan to drop support for the Taliban and the country became a US ally after years of being shunned because of its covert nuclear programme.

Since then Pakistan has captured and killed hundreds of al Qaeda members, but Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al Zawahri, are still on the loose and widely believed by many in the intelligence community to be hiding in Pakistan.

Mr Bush said before coming he would ask Mr Musharraf to do more to shut militant camps on Pakistani soil and stop cross-border infiltration -- something about which the Afghan and Indian leaders he met earlier on his tour have complained.

SORRY, NO NUCLEAR DEAL

US officials have said the United States will not be concluding a similar deal with Pakistan, which is still under a cloud because of the role of its top atom scientist, Mr Abdul Qadeer Khan, in a nuclear proliferation scandal.

But Mr Bush is expected to expand trade ties to help Mr Musharraf show the benefits of good relations with the world's superpower.

Mr Bush also gave reason for Pakistani opposition groups to hope he will push Mr Musharraf, who came to power in a military coup in 1999, to move faster to strengthen democratic institutions ahead of a general election next year.

''I believe that a democratic, prosperous Pakistan will be a steadfast partner for America, a peaceful neighbour for India and a force for freedom and moderation,'' he said.

Mr Musharraf has marginalised both of Pakistan's mainstream parties, led by former prime ministers Mr Nawaz Sharif and Ms Benazir Bhutto and critics say the vaccum has given Islamist parties room to fill.

Analysts say Washington knows it cannot push Mr Musharraf too far as the Pakistani leader, who has survived several assassination attempts by al Qaeda-linked groups, is going through one of the rougher patches of his turbulent rule.

Islamists seized on cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, deemed blasphemous and first published in Denmark, to whip up protests that spiralled into anti-Musharraf and anti-US agitation, the biggest and most violent show of public dissent since 2002.

Musharraf also has little to show from two years of peace talks with India.

A US spokesman said Mr Richard Boucher, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, would visit the US consulate in Karachi in coming days after Thursday's suicide attack that killed a US diplomat, his driver and a Pakistani security man.

REUTERS

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