Thousands in Pakistan riot against U.S.

President Musharraf retains public support

War On Terrorism

The World

October 13, 2001|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

QUETTA, Pakistan - In this desert city 80 miles from the Afghan border, the high point yesterday for 10,000 supporters of a militant Islamic party was the short speech at their anti-American protest by a 13-year-old boy. He stood before the mob to tell it that he dreamed of pulling an American's eyes out of their sockets.

In the seaside city of Karachi, thousands of anti-American protesters clashed with police, hurled stones, burned cars and set a KFC restaurant on fire. In the frontier town of Peshawar, in Pakistan's northwest, several thousand protesters burned effigies of President Bush.

Pakistanis took to the streets to express their anger with the United States and their own government for cooperating with the United States in the military campaign against Afghanistan. But the day could have been much worse for the United States and Pakistan's leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Most of the demonstrations were, by this country's standards, well-controlled and even subdued. Musharraf has said he believes that the majority of his country supports his efforts to assist the United States in its manhunt for Osama bin Laden, suspected of being the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

But the minority against him is vocal and strong. Whipped up with religious fervor, the Muslim political parties see Pakistan as party to a war against their Islamic faith. They organized many of the demonstrations yesterday.

They have also called for a nationwide strike Monday to continue their protests against Pakistan's support of the U.S.-led military strikes in Afghanistan and to oppose an expected visit of U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to Islamabad.

"The nation will not tolerate his unclean feet on our clean land," said a statement issued by the heads of a dozen religious parties who urged Pakistanis to keep their shops and offices closed to protest against the visit. "The national leaders said that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is coming for a visit at this critical situation to add salt to the injuries of Pakistani Muslims."

Musharraf had directed security agencies to "move firmly, swiftly and efficiently against law-breakers" and not allow clerics to use mosques to incite protests. Earlier in the week, he had detained three Islamic party leaders suspected of inciting violent protests.

Musharraf also ordered heavy security in extremist strongholds, including Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar. Those cities have many Taliban government sympathizers and a high number of ethnic Pashtuns, who share the same language and culture as most Afghans.

His strategy appeared to work. The worst violence occurred in Karachi, where one man was injured by gunfire and several protesters suffered minor injuries, witnesses said. Protests elsewhere were modest and calm. In Quetta, where three people were killed this week during clashes with police, Musharraf authorized the use of crack military units to clamp down on the protests.

Many people had feared that the most violent demonstrations would be here. On Monday, the day after the first night of bombings on Afghanistan, the city experienced some of the worst rioting in its history, when a mob burned a cinema, four banks and a United Nations office.

Yesterday, soldiers with automatic rifles watched from rooftops and street corners. Hundreds of troops in battle gear sat in the back of idling trucks, ready to react to the first hint of unrest. Authorities flooded a city park with sewage water to discourage protesters from gathering and organizing a protest there, according to local reports. And the streets remained quiet most of the day. After midday prayers, thousands of men made their way to Ayub Stadium, a crumbling cricket field near the center of the city where a demonstration was allowed by the government.

The protesters came in waves from many quarters of the city. Waving the white Taliban flag, they chanted the common refrain here: "Death to America" and "Long live Osama."

Leaders of religious schools spoke, their voices amplified through a tinny loudspeaker that broadcast across the field of about 10,000 people. Hanging from the stage were banners that said "Down with USA" and "Osama is not a terrorist."

"We are telling Pakistan not to give any support to American forces," one speaker shouted. "All of us are for the Taliban. As we fought with Afghanistan against the Russians, we will fight against the United States."

Another speaker said: "You American dogs just come in the night and bomb. We will attack in the daylight. All of the non-Muslim world is planning to smash the Taliban. But this is my advice: Whatever kind of force you use, you won't smash them."

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