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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Pakistan militants step up protests
Protestors burn an effigy of President Bush
Protesters torch an effigy of 'Dog Bush'
Islamic militants in Pakistan have stepped up protests against President Pervez Musharraf's decision to support the United States in a possible strike on Afghanistan.

If our government gives air or ground space to America, we will declare a jihad against the government

Pakistani protest organiser
Hundreds took to the streets of the north-western city of Peshawar chanting anti-US slogans and torching an effigy of President George W Bush.

Troops in the financial capital Karachi deployed in force ahead of a general strike called for Friday by Muslim clerics.

The protests come a day after General Musharraf made a nationally televised plea for support for his backing for Washington.

Drawing heavily on the Koran, the address in Urdu appeared to be aimed squarely at hardline Muslims within Pakistan.

'Death to America'

There have now been four successive days of protests in Peshawar, a trading city near the Afghan border.

General Pervez Musharraf
General Musharraf tried to reach out to his critics
Protesters shouted "Death to America," "Long Live Osama Bin Laden" and wrote "Dog Bush" on an effigy of the US president.

Senior clerics of Afghanistan's ruling Taleban have called on Bin Laden - the Saudi-born militant named as the key suspect behind the suicide attacks on New York and Washington - to leave the country voluntarily.

But they have also passed a resolution calling for a jihad, or holy war, in response to any United States attack on Afghanistan.

A Peshawar protest organiser told the AP news agency: "If our government gives air or ground space to America, we will declare a jihad against the government."

Further protests are planned for Thursday, as authorities brace for a general strike on Friday.

High alert

In Karachi, some 15,000 police were on high alert, concentrating on the airport as well as foreign consulates and businesses.

Riot police in Pakistan
Police have been placed on high alert
Police officials said they had received assurances from Muslim leaders that there would be no violence.

But Karachi residents were flocking to shops to stock up on essential items as prices shot up on fears of short supplies.

A former Pakistani intelligence chief, Hameed Gul, warned that any US attack on Afghanistan would destabilise the entire region.

Pakistan's main political parties, including the Pakistan People's Party and the Muslim League, have however indicated they will support President Musharraf's stance.

But the Jamaat-e-Islami has expressed reservations over extending support to the Unites States.

Kashmir solidarity

Muslim separatists in Indian-administered Kashmir have also called for a general strike on Friday in solidarity with Pakistani protesters.

But reports say Kashmir's main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, has urged people to ignore the strike call.

The group said a strike was unnecessary as international efforts were under way for a peaceful settlement of the crisis.

According to the AFP news agency, many militants are privately wondering how a US strike would effect their own battle against Indian rule.

One commander was quoted as saying he feared that Afghans fighting on their side in Kashmir might return home to rejoin Taleban forces.

See also:

19 Sep 01 | Media reports
Text: Musharraf rallies Pakistan
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Karachi protest against US
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's tough choice
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
Kabul checkpoints stem refugee exodus
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
Embassies act on Pakistan unrest
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