Pakistanis protest against crackdown

Hundreds of Islamists have gathered in cities across Pakistan to protest against a government crackdown on religious extremists.

    The turnout for the protests was relatively small

    More than 300 suspected militants have been detained across Pakistan since revelations that three of the four London bombers were British Muslims of Pakistani origin who had visited the country before the attacks.

    Pakistan's main alliance of Islamist parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, called for protest rallies after Friday prayers, when tens of millions of Pakistanis visit mosques.

    But like previous calls for demonstrations against President Pervez Musharraf's support for the US-led "war on terror", this, too, failed to draw big crowds.

    Small demonstrations

    Up to 700 Islamists chanted anti-Musharraf and anti-US slogans at Islamabad's Lal (Red) Mosque, which was raided on Tuesday by security forces searching for militants.

    Musharraf said all madrasas
    must be registered

    Some shouted slogans in support of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan's Taliban government, which was overthrown by US-led forces after the al-Qaida attacks on US cities on 11 September 2001.

    The protesters pelted stones at a police post, destroyed lamp posts and set fire to a police motorcycle.

    Similar rallies were held in the cities of Karachi, Lahore, Quetta and Peshawar. Many of the protesters were students from Islamic schools, or madrasas.

    Musharraf statement

    The protests followed a televised address to the nation by
    Musharraf on Thursday night in which he called for a holy war
    against preachers of hate and announced steps to rein in
    militant madrasas and groups seen as having influenced the
    London bombers.

    Mairaj-ul-Huda, an MMA leader in Karachi, questioned why there should have been a crackdown in Pakistan.

    "British nationals are involved in the London blasts," he told a rally of about 600 supporters in Karachi. "Why then is there a crackdown on religious institutions and religious scholars in Pakistan?"

    In his television address, Musharraf said all madrasas must
    register with authorities by December.

    In a rare show of solidarity, self-exiled former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, for long Musharraf's bitter rival, backed his decision to register madrasas.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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