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Protests Erupt in Pakistan After Troops Attack Religious School

In Pakistan, thousands of angry tribesmen and Islamic party activists have protested against Monday's military strike on an Islamic school near the Afghan border that authorities say killed at least 80 suspected militants.

The biggest rally was held in the Bajaur tribal region bordering Afghanistan, where Pakistani gunship helicopters carried out the attack against a religious school.

Witnesses say that more than 10,000 armed tribesmen gathered in the main town of Khar Tuesday to denounce the military action, alleging those killed were innocent students and teachers.

Protesters chanted "Down with America" and "Down with Musharraf", referring to Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf.

A female protester, Rakhshanda Naz, in the provincial capital, Peshawar, believes the Pakistani government carries out these attacks under pressure from the United States.

"Most of the time they hit civilians and innocent civilians to just show their efficiency to prove we are good partners in the war against terror," she said.

Pakistani authorities have dismissed allegations that Monday's military strike against the Islamic school killed innocent people. They say the compound was concealing a training camp for terrorists.

Speaking at a seminar in Islamabad Tuesday, President Musharraf again strongly defended the action.

"Anyone who is saying that these people were innocent Taleban is telling lies," General Musharraf said. "We were watching them since the last six or seven days. We knew exactly who they are, what they are doing. They were all militants using weapons doing military training within the compound."

Pakistani and U.S officials have denied as baseless reports that the attack was carried out by U.S. forces.

The scene of Monday's air strike lies across the border from Afghanistan's eastern province of Kunar, where coalition troops are hunting al-Qaida and Taleban militants.

A large number of these militants are believed to have taken shelter in the Pakistani tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

Military officials in Pakistan, a close U.S. ally in the war against terrorism, reject allegations that these militant forces are moving back and forth to carry out attacks inside Afghanistan.

Protest rallies were also held in several towns of Pakistan's northwestern frontier province, which borders Afghanistan and is governed by an alliance of major Islamic parties