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Tens of thousands of Pakistanis in cartoon protest

Written by: Staff
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KARACHI, Mar 5 (Reuters) Tens of thousands of Pakistanis rallied to protest against cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad today and many took the opportunity to criticise the government and the United States.

Muslims consider the cartoons, first published in Denmark last year, blasphemous. They sparked widespread protests across the Muslim world after they were reprinted in European papers this year.

But Pakistan's Islamist-led opposition is using the controversy to whip up anger against the United States and a major ally in the US-led war on terrorism -- Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, analysts say.

Protesters in the city of Karachi shouted ''Death to Denmark'' today but many also shouted ''Death to America'' and ''Death to Israel''.

Protesters also burnt an effigy of US President George W.

Bush, who ended a 24-hour visit to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, yesterday.

''This movement for the protection of the sanctity of the Prophet Mohammad will lead to a revolution,'' Liaquat Baluch, a central leader of an alliance of Islamist parties told the rally.

''Bush should know that his puppet Musharraf has become unpopular,'' he said.

An intelligence official estimated 35,000 people took part in the rally. Witnesses said the protest was peaceful and there were no reports of violence.

A large number of women wearing all-enveloping Islamic veil and girls with headbands inscribed with Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest) also took part.

A nationwide strike called by Islamist parties against the cartoons paralysed Pakistan on Friday hours before Bush arrived.

Two people were killed in protests in the city of Lahore and three in the northwestern city of Peshawar last month.

Many people in predominantly Muslim Pakistan oppose Musharraf's support for the US-led war on terrorism.

Musharraf, who wants to create what he calls an enlightened and moderate Pakistan, has also criticised the cartoons and he expressed his indignation over the issue in his talks with Bush.

REUTERS CH KP2035

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