Police in Pakistan fired teargas and rubber bullets to prevent hundreds of activists from Islamic and political parties from organizing a protest rally in Islamabad against editorial cartoons of the Muslim prophet, Muhammad. Violent anti-cartoons protests across the country in the past week have left at least five protesters dead and of scores others injured.
Pakistani authorities had imposed a ban on protest rallies in Islamabad following past week's violent demonstrations in other parts of the country. But hundreds of demonstrators led by leaders of major Islamic parties tried to rally in a central part of the capital in defiance of the ban. Security forces used teargas and rubber bullets to disperse them while protesters retaliated by throwing stones.
Police also detained several lawmakers and religious leaders during raids in three cities to prevent them from taking part in the protest rally in Islamabad. Paramilitary troops patrolled streets in Islamabad while barbed wire was placed across main routes leading to parliament and elsewhere.
An alliance of six Islamic parties, known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, is leading the anti-cartoons protests. One of its senior members and leader of the opposition in the parliament's lower house, Maulana Fasul-ur-Rehman, was heading the protest march in Islamabad.
The religious leader told his followers that the whole Pakistan nation and the Muslim
world will continue coming onto the streets until an apology is offered for 'this sinister act' and a promise made not to repeat it.
Cartoons depicting Muhammad were published in a newspaper in Denmark last year and later reprinted in many European countries. The images have angered Muslims around the world who believe the cartoons insulted their prophet.
Meanwhile, Denmark announced that its ambassador to Islamabad has returned home following violent protests in Pakistan.
The anti-cartoons' protests have turned violent in several Muslim countries, including Libya, where 11 people have died, and Nigeria, where clashes with security forces have killed 16 protesters so far.