New protests as Pakistan blames 'hidden hands' for riots
Updated: 2006-02-16 15:21
Thousands of Pakistanis have staged further protests over cartoons of the
Prophet Mohammed as officials blamed extremists for riots that have targeted
Western firms and left five people dead.
President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said "antisocial
and criminal elements" were exploiting the demonstrations, which have begun to
take an explicitly anti-US tone in Pakistan.
protesters in Peshawar burn an effigy of US President George W Bush during
a demonstration against the publications of the cartoons of Prophet
Mohammed. Pakistan braces for new protests against cartoons of the Prophet
Mohammed as officials blamed hardline groups for stoking the riots that
targeted Western firms and left five people dead.
More than 20,000 people were estimated to have joined a rally called by
religious parties in Karachi, Pakistan's largest and most volatile city,
shouting: "Oh Prophet, we are your servants. We are here to sacrifice our life
to preserve your honour."
Paramilitary troops were deployed to protect branches of KFC, McDonald's and
other Western fast food chains while residents said the main branch of US-based
Citibank hid its logo under a black cloth.
Organisers repeatedly urged the crowd via a public address system not to hurl
stones at public buildings, burn flags or torch effigies of Western leaders.
The protest began peacefully although marchers shouted slogans against
Telenor, a Norwegian mobile-phone company whose offices have been smashed up in
The marchers, many wearing the green caps or turbans of a leading Sunni
Muslim group and waving green flags, marched behind a banner calling on Muslim
nations to cut ties with EU countries.
City police chief Niaz Siddiqui said some 5,000 police and paramilitary
troops were on the streets, adding: "We have been on red alert for the past
The government ordered the closure of all schools and colleges in Karachi on
The fundamentalist Jamaat-i-Islami, a key component of a hardline opposition
coalition of religious parties, has scheduled a separate rally by its women's
wing -- the first in the country since the cartoon row broke out.
Traders in Karachi, a southern port city of 12 million people, have also
planned a strike Thursday in protest over the cartoons published in mainly
European newspapers, which have enraged the Muslim world.
Shopkeepers in the central city of Multan also downed shutters.
The protests come a day after 50,000 demonstrators rampaged through the
northwestern city of Peshawar, torching a KFC outlet and 16 buses operated by a
South Korean firm, and trashing some Telenor offices.
An eight-year-old boy was killed by a stray bullet and a man was electrocuted
by power lines that toppled during the mayhem.
Riots also flared Wednesday for a second day in the historic eastern city of
Lahore, where another person was shot dead, and in at least half a dozen other
towns across the world's second most populous Muslim nation.
Two people died in Lahore on Tuesday and protesters in the capital Islamabad
stormed a diplomatic enclave.
Police arrested 365 people in connection with the violence in Peshawar and
are not ruling out further violence, the city's police chief Said Wazir told
As the unrest surged, Musharraf and Aziz vowed that the government would curb
subversive elements wanting to "exploit sentiments of the nation to create a
law-and-order problem in the country," state media reported.
Information Minister Sheikh Rashid was quoted in Dawn newspaper as saying
that demonstrators in Lahore had carried out acts of violence at the behest of
some "hidden hands."
Pakistan has witnessed almost daily protests since the row over the Danish
cartoons erupted last month, but the rallies have turned angrier in recent days
and ahead of a visit by US President George W. Bush in March.