40,000 protest against Prophet cartoons in Pakistan

Tens of thousands of people shouting "God is Great!" marched through Karachi on Thursday and burned effigies of the Danish prime minister in Pakistan's latest round of protests over cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.

About 5,000 police and paramilitary forces, wearing helmets and wielding guns and shields, were deployed along the three-kilometer (two-mile) route of the rally to prevent the violence that has plagued other protests throughout the country this week, police said.

The rally in Karachi ended peacefully and about 40,000 people participated in it, said Shahnawaz Khan, a senior Karachi police officer.

Protesters burned Danish flags and also chanted, "God's curse be on those who insulted the prophet." The government ordered educational institutions to close for the day and many shops in the city, a hotbed of Islamic militancy, were shut. Most public transportation did not operate.

Shah Turabul Haq, the head of Jamat Ahl-e-Sunnat, the Sunni Muslim group that organized the rally, said the "movement to protect the prophet's sanctity will continue until the pens of the blasphemous people are broken and their tongues get quiet."

He demanded the government expel ambassadors of countries where newspapers published cartoons of the Prophet. Another cleric, Mufti Munibur Rahman, called for a boycott of products from those nations, and called for world bodies like the United Nations to treat "attacks" on the Prophet's sanctity as a crime.

Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday appealed for European and other Western nations to condemn the cartoons, saying freedom of the press did not mean the right to insult the religious beliefs of others.

The drawings were first published in a Danish newspaper in September and later reprinted by other media, mainly in Europe. Many Muslims regard any depiction of the Prophet Muhammad as blasphemous. One of the drawings depicted the prophet with a turban shaped like a bomb, reports the AP.

I.L.