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Sunday, October 25, 1998 Published at 15:41 GMT

World: South Asia

'Boycott cola and burgers'

It was the party's first rally in Islamabad

The leader of Pakistan's biggest hardline Islamic party has called for a boycott of western fast food and soft drinks.

Speaking at the end of a massive three-day Jamaat-e-Islami party conference in Islamabad, Qazi Hussain Ahmed said that the whole country should refuse to buy drinks made by multinational companies such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola.

"Can't we live without Pepsi, Coke and Fanta? . . . Are they so essential for us?" he asked.

He also said Muslims should not eat foods like McDonald's burgers and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

[ image: Makeshift toilets for the participants - the party has good organisational skills]
Makeshift toilets for the participants - the party has good organisational skills
Pakistanis, he said, could make better food than the multinationals and it makes no sense to buy foreign foods.

Both Coke and Pepsi are widely drunk in Pakistan, and McDonald's recently opened its first restaurant in the country in the city of Lahore.

Hundreds of thousands of supporters came to Jamaat's rally, which was held in the capital for the first time.

Organisers said the event was intended as a show of force. Successive speeches denounced both the government and the opposition for being corrupt and argued that Pakistan's salvation lay in an Islamic revolution.

"Our historic gathering is not a political rally against anyone," Qazi Hussain Ahmed told his audience.

"If it is against anyone, it is against the cruel [ruling] people in Islamabad," he added.

"[Prime Minister] Nawaz Sharif is insincere in enforcing Islam ... he has curtailed the powers of the president, destroyed the institution of judiciary and now his policies are creating uncertainty in the army," he said.

Jamaat-e-Islami's membership has grown to millions from only a few thousand at Pakistan's independence from Britain in 1947. The party is now seen by many analysts as the opposition-to-come against a succession of democrat governments, which have so far failed to cure economic ills.

The Pakistani English-language daily, The Nation, said Jamaat's gathering had huge political significance.

"This is an exhibition of political power expressed in numbers," the paper said.

"The Jamaat is the only party ... which has the muscle and the stubbornness to function as a real opposition."

The BBC's correspondent in Islamabad, Owen Bennet-Jones, says the conference has once again proved Jamaat's capacity to mobilise popular support, and - with tens of thousands of party workers accommodated in specially erected tents - it also underlined the its organisational capacity.

What it has lacked so far, our correspondent says, is an ability to translate support into electoral success.

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