40,000 in Karachi Protest Cartoons of Muhammad
Friday, February 17, 2006
KARACHI, Pakistan, Feb.16 -- Tens of thousands of people marched through this southern Pakistani city Thursday, shouting "God is great!" and burning effigies of the Danish prime minister in the country's fourth day of protests over newspaper cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, police said.
About 5,000 police officers and paramilitary troops, wearing helmets and wielding guns and shields, were deployed along the two-mile route of the rally to prevent the violence that has attended other protests throughout the country this week, said Mushtaq Shah, chief of police operations in Karachi.
About 40,000 people took part in the demonstration, which ended peacefully, said Shahnawaz Khan, a senior Karachi police officer.
Protesters burned Danish flags and chanted: "God's curse be on those who insulted the prophet." The government ordered educational institutions to close for the day, and many shops in the city -- a hotbed of Islamic militancy -- were shut. Most public buses stayed off the roads.
Turabul Haq, the head of Jamat Ahl-e-Sunnat, the Sunni Muslim group that organized the rally, vowed that "the movement to protect the prophet's sanctity will continue until the pens of the blasphemous people are broken and their tongues get quiet."
Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday appealed for European and other Western nations to condemn the cartoons, first published in a Danish paper on Sept. 30.
On Wednesday, a protest by more than 70,000 Pakistanis in the northwestern city of Peshawar dissolved into deadly riots by stone-throwing and gun-wielding youths, who targeted foreign businesses.
Five people have been killed in protests in Pakistan this week.
Ameer Azeem, a spokesman for the United Action Forum, an opposition coalition of religious parties that have organized most of the protests, said television footage of violent attacks by protesters on embassies in other countries had prompted Pakistanis to do the same.
He appealed for people to avoid violence in demonstrations the coalition has planned for later this month, but he didn't expect people to follow his advice.
Also Thursday, more than 1,000 traders held a rally in the eastern city of Multan, closing most shops, said Sharif Zafar, a local police officer.