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Thousands mourn Pakistani who died in German jail

Written by: Staff
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SAROKI, Pakistan, May 13 (Reuters) Tens of thousands of mourners, mostly Islamist party activists, attended the funeral today of a Pakistani man who died in a German jail while awaiting trial for trying to murder a newspaper editor.

Amir Cheema, 28, died in custody 10 days ago after being arrested in March on charges of attempting to kill the editor of Die Welt for reprinting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad first published in Denmark last year.

An advisor to the chief minister of Punjab province laid a wreath on the coffin when it arrived in Lahore today morning before it was flown in a helicopter 64 km north to the family village in Saroki.

While the Punjab government is run by the Pakistan Muslim League heading the federal government, it is the Islamist parties opposed to President Pervez Musharraf which have sought to make most political capital from the death of Cheema, depicting him as a martyr.

Up to 30,000 thousand mourners had congregated in Saroki and the coffin's arrival was greeted with chants of ''Get Amir's Killers'' and ''Musharraf Go'', witnesses said.

Activists from the Islamist opposition parties were prominent among the crowd, and thousands of religious students, as well as lawyers and doctors, flocked to Saroki for the funeral.

Supporters of Jamaat-ud-Dawa, an organisation banned by the United States earlier this month for its links with terrorism, tried to stop journalists from taking photographs.

Germany's ambassador to Pakistan, Gunter Mulack, told a news conference in Islamabad yesterday preliminary findings showed there were ''no traces or indications of physical violence or other external influence'' on Cheema's body.

The Islamist parties organised small but fiery protests in the capital and several cities in Punjab province yesterday.

The demonstrations were only attended by a few hundred people in each place, but there were demands for the expulsion of the German ambassador and attacks on German interests, together with calls for jihad, or holy war, and the overthrow of Musharraf's government.

Some of the largest and most violent protests against the cartoons in the Islamic world took place in Pakistan in February and March, as Islamist parties seized on the issue to undermine Musharraf, who is often criticised for cooperating with the United States in a global war on terrorism.

REUTERS OM BD1447

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