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Sunday, July 25, 1999 Published at 18:18 GMT 19:18 UK

World: South Asia

Anti-Sharif protesters come out in force

Protesters shouted "Down with America" and burned effigies of Bill Clinton

Tens of thousands of protesters have taken part in an anti-government demonstration in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

Kashmir Conflict
The BBC correspondent in the city, Owen Bennett-Jones, says it is the most significant street protest organised by hard-line Islamic opposition party, Jamaat-i-Islami, against the decision by the country's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, to urge Islamic insurgents to withdraw from Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Busloads of supporters began arriving in the Punjab provincial capital hours before the late-afternoon rally, and vehicles were searched for weapons as they entered the stronghold of the governing Pakistan Muslim League.

The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones on the "most significant show of opposition to the PM since the withdrawal from Kargil"
The crowds of protesters marched through the centre of Lahore, waving flags and chanting religious slogans.

Some banners proclaimed support for making Kashmir part of Pakistan, while others branded Mr Sharif a traitor.

The leader of Jamaat-i-Islami, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, called for Mr Sharif to be overthrown. He told the crowd of protesters that the Pakistani prime minister was a coward who had inflicted defeat on Pakistan.

Caved in

Jamaat-i-Islami leaders believe that Mr Sharif caved in to United States pressure.

[ image: Jamaat-i-Islami leaders reject Mr Sharif's accord with President Clinton]
Jamaat-i-Islami leaders reject Mr Sharif's accord with President Clinton
They reject the agreement between Mr Sharif and President Bill Clinton under which Washington persuaded Islamabad to withdraw Pakistan-backed forces from the Indian side of the ceasefire line that divides Kashmir.

The hard-liners say it goes against the right of self-determination for the Kashmiri people.

Like most of those attending the rally, Qazi Hussain Ahmed also said there was little hope that dialogue, even with the US president's backing, would produce a settlement in the long-standing Kashmir dispute.

(Click here to see a map of the area)

Two thousand police were deployed along the route of the march.

However the protest passed off peacefully and the authorities say that no arrests were made.

Despite the pull-out that began two weeks ago, militant Islamic groups have vowed to keep fighting in Kashmir, some have said they will carry out suicide attacks against Indian forces.

Our correspondent says Mr Sharif and his administration have not been worried by previous demonstrations, as the numbers of marchers have been small. He says that Mr Sharif was involved in his regular game of Sunday cricket while the demonstration was taking place in Lahore.

Talks urged

On Saturday Mr Sharif had urged the Indian authorities to start talks soon, because it would make matters easier for both countries.

But on Sunday the Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes said there would be no talks until the last of the separatists had been removed from Indian-administered Kashmir. He was repeating a position previously adopted by the Prime Minister AB Vajpayee.

Earlier on Sunday the Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh thanked the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, for American help to resolve the recent Kashmir problem.

The two met for an hour in Singapore where both were attending the Asean regional forum.

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