Islamic parties in Pakistan plan protests against purported U.S. airstrike

A coalition of radical Islamic groups in Pakistan planned new protests Friday as thousands of lawyers also denounced a purported U.S. airstrike in a tribal village and called for the resignation of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Demonstrations last weekend against the Jan. 13 attack, which left 13 villagers dead as well as reportedly killing up at least four foreign militants, drew more than 10,000 to protests in the country's biggest cities. More than 1,000 rallied again Thursday.

Friday's protests by the religious groups were scheduled in the eastern city of Lahore and the northwestern city of Peshawar, a conservative city near the Afghan border where the attack took place and the capital of the North West Frontier province.

More rallies were planned in other towns in the province, said Shahid Shamsi, a spokesman for the group organizing the protests, the six-party religious alliance Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, or United Action Forum.

Demonstrators will also demand the withdrawal from Pakistan of U.S. troops assisting in relief efforts after an Oct. 8 earthquake killed 87,000 people and left 3.5 million homeless, Shamsi said. He accused the American forces of spying.

"Our protests will continue until the American troops go back," he said.

Meanwhile, thousands of lawyers staged separate protests in various cities to denounce the airstrike, said Abdur Rahman Ansari, deputy chairman of the Pakistan Bar Council, the main association of lawyers in Pakistan.

About 100 lawyers protested in front of the Supreme Court in the capital Islamabad, chanting "Death to America" and "Death to Musharraf," Ansari said.

"It seems the country has no sovereignty ... The rulers have become like slaves," he said, adding that "Musharraf did not open his mouth to condemn the attack."

Pakistani authorities have said that the Jan. 13 attack in the village of Damadola, just northwest of Peshawar, killed at least four foreign militants, possibly including an al-Qaida explosives and chemical weapons expert and a relative of the terror network's No. 2 leader.

While the Pakistani government condemned the attack and filed a protest with the U.S. Embassy, Musharraf has avoided publicly criticizing the United States.

During Thursday's protest, more than 1,000 supporters of another Islamic group chanted "Death to America!" and "Jihad, Jihad!" as they marched through two crowded bazaars in Peshawar. They also burned effigies of U.S. President George W. Bush.

Shamsi criticized Musharraf for "keeping quiet" over the attack. Radical Islamic groups oppose Musharraf for supporting Washington in the U.S.-led war against terrorism, which ousted the Taliban militia from power in neighboring Afghanistan for harboring al-Qaida.

The religious coalition made stunning gains in parliamentary elections in 2002 on a platform opposing the United States and supporting the Taliban, reports the AP.


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