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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 18:09 GMT
Bin Laden calls Pakistanis to arms
Protesters in Karachi
Pakistanis have protested violently against the US
The prime suspect for the 11 September attacks on America, Osama Bin Laden, has apparently urged Pakistani Muslims to defend Islam against what he described as a Christian campaign.

News organisations including the BBC were sent copies of a letter - allegedly from Bin Laden - that describes the US-led military attacks against the Saudi-born militant and Afghanistan's Taleban regime as a conflict of religions.

Osama Bin Laden
Bin Laden: Accused Pakistan of "standing beneath the Christian banner"
The letter exhorts Muslims in Pakistan to "stand in the face" of the attacks.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair responded by issuing a statement of support for the Pakistani military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, saying he "is trying to do his best for the people of Pakistan".

"I hope people realise that the desire of Bin Laden is to create Taleban-type states all over the world," added Mr Blair, who is on a diplomatic mission in the Middle East to shore up Arab support for the campaign against terrorism.

President Musharraf has allied himself with the US-led campaign, although this decision has brought him under intense pressure from Pakistani civilians, who have staged sometimes violent demonstrations against the attacks on Afghanistan.

The Bin Laden letter accused Pakistan of "standing beneath the Christian banner".

President Musharraf
Musharraf backs the US, an unpopular stance
The BBC Arabic service was sent a copy of the letter by fax after a man speaking Arabic with an Afghan or Pakistani accent phoned the department.

The call for Pakistanis to rise up against their government comes at a sensitive time.

Christian worshippers were massacred on Sunday in eastern Punjab province by suspected Islamist gunmen.

This week, furious Pakistani demonstrators poured into the streets of the capital Islamabad, denouncing their president as a poodle of the United States.

Hussein Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador and political commentator, has warned that the demonstrations could have a damaging impact on President Musharraf's political effectiveness.

If the Pakistani public responds to Bin Laden's call to arms, then this could only deepen the country's destabilisation.

See also:

01 Nov 01 | Media reports
Full text: Bin Laden's 'letter to Muslims'
31 Oct 01 | South Asia
Pakistanis' patience wears thin
15 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan seeks reassurance
14 Oct 01 | Middle East
Al-Qaeda threatens US and UK
10 Oct 01 | South Asia
Al-Qaeda threatens fresh terror attacks
07 Oct 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden defiant
10 Oct 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's fault lines
02 Oct 01 | South Asia
Quetta protest draws thousands
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