[OPE-L:5981] protests rock Pakistan

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Fri Sep 21 2001 - 14:05:52 EDT


Protests rock Pakistan 

                                  Special report: Pakistan 

                                  Staff and agencies
                                  Friday September 21, 2001 

                                  Angry protests in Pakistan brought parts of 
the country to a virtual
                                  standstill today as demonstrators rallied 
behind Islamic groups.

                                  Shops were closed and transport suspended as 
demonstrators made their
                                  voices heard in response to a nationwide 
strike called by Muslim clerics.

                                  It is the fifth consecutive day of protests 
in the country, but by far the most
                                  dramatic with police, their numbers boosted, 
firing tear gas into some
                                  boisterous crowds.

                                  Protestors are acting against their 
government's pledge on Wednesday to
                                  support American military strikes against 
neighbouring Afghanistan, where
                                  Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in last 
week's terrorist attacks in
                                  America, is defended by the Taliban.

                                  Despite ongoing negotiations Afghanistan's 
ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul
                                  Salam Zaeef, announced today that Taliban 
rulers will not hand over Bin
                                  Laden without evidence. Asked if the Taliban 
would deliver him, said, "No,"
                                  but his translator added, "No, not without 
evidence." 

                                  Pakistanis near the Afghan border vowed to 
launch a war against Americans.

                                  Thousands of protesters swarmed the streets 
of Peshawar, in the north west,
                                  shouting anti-American and anti-Pakistani 
slogans. Burning a life-size
                                  effigy of the US president they shouted: 
"Long live Osama". 

                                  "We will fight until the death and 
destruction of the United States," one sign
                                  read. "Crush America and Bush," read another. 

                                  Hardline Islamic clerics fuelled the strength 
of feeling and told their
                                  listeners that they backed bin Laden and the 
Taliban leadership, which has
                                  protected him and his followers in 
Afghanistan for years. 

                                  Hundreds of people watched the procession 
from rooftops and balconies in a
                                  city where most people are Pashtun, the same 
ethnic group predominating
                                  among the Taliban, and where there are two 
million Afghan refugees.

                                  Heavily armed police, estimated at 15,000, 
patrolled the city on foot and in
                                  tanks.

                                  Violence flared in Karachi, the country's 
biggest city and its commercial
                                  hub. The largest incident was in the Sohrab 
Goth neighbourhood, where an
                                  estimated 1,500 Afghan refugees clashed with 
police, burning tyres and
                                  attacking vehicles.

                                  In other parts of Karachi, police were forced 
to fire tear gas and beat people
                                  with iron-tipped sticks to disperse crowds 
pelting vehicles with stones and
                                  blocking roads. At least 70 demonstrators 
were arrested, police said. 

                                  In other parts of the country such as the 
south west city of Quetta, Lahore
                                  and Islamabad, the capital, police were on 
guard, many in riot gear, but
                                  protests had not begun. Most shops and 
schools were ordered to close for
                                  their own safety.

                                  The general strike also closed schools, 
offices and shops in the northern
                                  Indian state of Jammu-Kashmir, where Islamic 
rebels are fighting for
                                  independence with the support of Pakistan.

                                  America has agreed to lift sanctions imposed 
on Pakistan and India and to
                                  reschedule $600m (410m) in bilateral debt 
with Islamabad, a senior
                                  western diplomat said today.

                                  The diplomat, who asked not to be identified, 
said that "discernible progress"
                                  would be seen soon.

                                  Details of the surprise deal are reportedly 
being finalised at the moment and
                                  will allow a resumption of American 
assistance to Pakistan, which ended
                                  after sanctions were imposed for the nuclear 
tests it carried out in 1998.

                                  The news come after a fruitless year of talks 
under the Paris Club to
                                  reschedule Pakistan's bilateral debt.

                                  America will sign an agreement on 
rescheduling $600m worth of debt, part
                                  of Pakistan's $1.6bn debt considered by the 
Paris Club, in a move seen by
                                  many as a reward for Pakistan in return for 
its support of the US over its
                                  expected attacks against Pakistan's 
neighbour, Afghanistan.

                                  The US has turned to Pakistan because of its 
critical geographical position,
                                  on the border with Afghanistan and its ties 
to the Taliban regime. 

                                  The Afghan Defence Council, an alliance of 35 
religious and militant groups,
                                  has warned the Pakistani leader, general 
Musharraf, that his decision to
                                  back America could plunge the country into 
civil war. 

                                  With almost a week of protests, which are 
becoming increasingly heated, and
                                  American strikes imminent, many Pakistanis 
fear civil war is inevitable.

                                  Yesterday, a grand Islamic council in 
Afghanistan met at the request of the
                                  Taliban leadership and took the decision to 
ask Bin Laden to leave
                                  voluntarily.

                                  It is not yet known if he will comply, or if 
a war could be averted even if he
                                  did.



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