As loudspeakers broadcast songs in the local Pashto language, protesters gathered on Tuesday in a field in Khar, the main town in the tribal district of Bajaur, to denounce what they described as an attack that killed innocent students and teachers.

 

Addressing the rally, Maulana Roohul Amin, a local Islamic cleric, said: "We will continue our jihad. We will take revenge for the blood of our martyrs.

 

"The infidels are trying to erase us from existence."

 

Scores of pro-government tribal police were deployed throughout Bajaur, blocking roads with large rocks in an attempt to prevent political activists and journalists reaching Khar and Chingai, a local government official said.

Meanwhile, Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, has said that the 80 people killed in a air raid on a religious school near the Afghan border were all undergoing military training.

"They were militants doing military training. We were watching them for the last six or seven days - we knew exactly who they are, what they are doing," Musharraf told a security conference in Islamabad on Tuesday.

  

"They were all militants using weapons doing military training within the compound."

 

Resignations

 

Many local politicians and regional cabinet ministers have resigned in protest over the attack.

 

"Islamabad is acting against its own citizens who profess loyalty, promise to maintain peace and to eliminate foreign militants," a Pakistan daily, The Nation, said in an editorial column.

 

Ali Dayan Hasan, a representative for Human Rights Watch, accused Pakistani authorities of "persistent use of excessive and disproportionate force in pursuing counter-terror operations".

 

The planned signing of a peace deal between tribal leaders and the military was cancelled in response to the air strike.

 

The attack led to claims of US collusion with Pakistan in attacking and destroying the madrasa.

 

Pakistani and US military officials have denied American involvement in the attack, which occurred 3km from the Afghan border, saying it was purely a Pakistani operation.

 

Terrorist links

 

Among those killed was Liaqat Hussain, a fugitive cleric who ran the attacked madrasa.

 

The raid was carried out after Hussain rejected government warnings to stop using the school as a training camp for fighters heading to Afghanistan, the military said.

 

Faqir Mohammed, who Pakistan also described as a 'terrorist', left the madrasa 30 minutes before the strike, intelligence officials said.

 

Qazi Hussain Ahmed, a Pakistani political leader, said he would lead a convoy of cars from the northwestern city of Peshawar to Khar and Chingai in protest on Tuesday.

 

"They killed 80 teenagers who were students of the Quran," Ahmed said. "This is a very cruel joint-activity [between the US and Musharraf governments]."