Thousands of Islamic militants clashed Friday with police, hurling stones, burning cars and setting a fast-food restaurant on fire. Seven people were wounded as security forces fought back with batons, gunfire in the air and volleys of tear gas.
Leaders of major Muslim political parties, who had called for nationwide protests Friday, issued calls for a nationwide strike Monday to protest Pakistan's support of the U.S.-led military strikes in neighboring Afghanistan.
Heavy security was in place in major extremist strongholds, including Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar. Crowds were generally modest, but in the southern port city of Karachi several thousand demonstrators most of them Afghan refugees and ethnic Pashtuns who sympathize with them tore through the streets for hours.
Seven people were wounded by gunfire and several others sustained minor injuries in Karachi, witnesses said. No further details of their injuries were immediately available.
Scattered protests and violence, some whipped up by leaders of major Islamic parties in Pakistan, have taken place in some cities this week since the strikes began Sunday. Friday, the main Muslim prayer day, has become a frequent day of trouble, and this is the first such prayer day since the Afghanistan military strikes began.
The government says things are under control, and President Gen. Pervez Musharraf insists most Pakistanis support his decision to help the United States root out terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden and terrorist installations inside Afghanstan.
Nonetheless, Musharraf's government said Friday it would deal firmly with anyone who protests violently or acts against Pakistan's national interest.
There are only a few extremist elements who tried to disrupt law and order, but we have given instructions to the law-enforcement agencies not to allow anybody to take law in their hands, Musharraf's spokesman, Maj. Gen. Rashid Quereshi, said in Islamabad.
In Peshawar, armored personnel carriers parked on corners and heavily armed soldiers lined the streets and hunkered down in sandbag bunkers. But when several thousand protesters demonstrated early Friday afternoon, everything stayed peaceful.
Young men screaming jihad is our way were signing up to fight in Afghanistan in support of its rigidly Islamic Taliban. Outside the Madni Mosque, as loudspeakers atop its minarets issued the call to prayer, young men handed money to a bearded man with a sign: Give to jihad. Down with America and Long live Osama.
In Quetta, mullahs largely avoided anti-American sentiment Friday as at least 1,000 heavily armed riot police guarded the city, according to the deputy police commander, Hammayoon Jogzai. Much of the unrest this week has been in or near Quetta, in Pakistan's southwest.
Near Chaman, in an area heavily influenced by Afghanistan's Taliban, guards from Pakistan's border militia dug trenches along the border with Afghanistan on Friday and set up new lines of barbed wire. New barbed-wire fences could also be seen along the frontier.
The Karachi restaurant was licensed to KFC, a popular U.S.-based fast-food company. Witnesses said the restaurant covered its familiar sign and logo this week in anticipation of anti-American reaction, but protesters already knew of its existence.
It was moderately damaged, and no injuries were reported. Firefighters extinguished the fire as demonstrators moved on to burn seven vehicles two public buses, three cars and two motorcycles. In the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, police said they quickly deployed officers to the local KFC.
In the mountainous southern city of Jacobabad, soldiers and police patrolled the streets and residential rooftops, tightening security near an air base that government officials and witnesses say is being used by American personnel.
Authorities stopped and questioned drivers along main roads, and police were stationed at every kilometer (half-mile). Roads leading to Jacobabad air base, which residents say was ringed with barbed wire a week ago, were blocked.
Pakistani officials confirmed Thursday on condition of anonymity that the country has allowed U.S. military aircraft to land inside its borders and has granted the United States use of at least two air bases during air strikes inside Afghanistan.
The officials emphasized that the Americans were not ground forces and did not characterize them as U.S. military personnel.
The issue is extremely controversial in this Muslim country, whose government issued a formal denial Thursday that U.S. armed services personnel and aircraft were in Pakistan.
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