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Friday, 9 November, 2001, 23:46 GMT
Pakistan police fire on protesters
Pakistani police
Police in Pakistan have been on high alert
Police in Pakistan have shot dead four pro-Taleban protesters taking part in a nationwide strike against the US-led war in Afghanistan.

The demonstrators were blocking a railway line in the town of Shahdan Lund, 500 kilometres (350 miles) south-west of Islamabad.

The violence comes in spite of heavy security across the country to prevent trouble during the strike, called by the Pakistan Afghan Defence Council, a coalition of religious political parties.


I appeal to the people to fully participate in the general strike because this is a referendum

Samiul Haq, Afghan Defence Council

The clashes in Shahdan Lund began when some 5,000 supporters of the radical religious Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam party blocked the main highway in the town.

After being moved on by the police, they blocked the railway line with rocks, preventing a Lahore-Quetta express train from leaving.

They also took three policemen hostage, but later released them.

Police used tear gas against them. When the protesters responded by throwing stones, the police opened fire with live rounds.

At least six people were injured, as well as the three fatalities.

Elsewhere in Punjab, half a dozen people were arrested when pro-Taleban supporters tried to hold a demonstration outside a mosque in Lahore.

In the border town of Peshawar, police fired teargas at a crowd of protesters.

In Sibi, in Baluchistan province, police rounded up demonstrators who were trying to block the main road.

The Pakistan Afghan Defence Council has called on President Pervez Musharraf to withdraw his support for the coalition against terrorism.

Public holiday

The BBC's Susannah Price in Islamabad says the strike call coincides with a public holiday announced several months ago by the government and many businesses, schools and shops would have been closed anyway.

Qazi Hussain Ahmad
Pro-Taleban leaders have been detained
Security has been tight in the largest city, Karachi, scene of previous violent clashes between police and protesters, where most shopping centres and markets remain shut.

Since the US bombing of Afghanistan began, rallies in Pakistan have been relatively limited in size and correspondents say they do not appear to be picking up in numbers, although many Pakistanis say they oppose the bombardment.

President Musharraf, meeting UK Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday, called for an early end to the bombing campaign and also for military strikes to be stopped during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts on 17 November.

Crackdown

On Thursday, the government ordered the Taleban consulate in Karachi to shut down by the end of the week, a day after warning the hardline regime's ambassador in Islamabad to avoid criticising the US in press briefings.

Two prominent religious leaders have also been detained by the authorities - Maulana Fazlur Rehman who heads the pro-Taleban Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam and Qazi Hussain Ahmed, chief of the country's largest Islamic political party, the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Sedition charges against Qazi Ahmed, who called on the military to overthrow General Musharraf, are underway.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Ben Brown
"This kind of dissent will not be tolerated"
The BBC's Lyse Doucet
"We've seen demonstrations in all the major Pakistani cities"
See also:

08 Nov 01 | Europe
Musharraf urges quick end to war
08 Nov 01 | South Asia
Pakistan restricts Taleban again
17 Oct 01 | South Asia
Pakistan cleric charges condemned
02 Oct 01 | South Asia
Quetta protest draws thousands
04 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan outlines unease
09 Nov 01 | Media reports
Pakistan's press predicts pain and gain
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