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Muslim Groups Protest Powell Pakistan Visit - 2001-10-15

Some religious groups in Pakistan, angry over the country's support for U.S. strikes against suspected terrorists in neighboring Afghanistan, are staging a nationwide strike Monday to protest the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. The Powell visit comes on the heels of anti-American protests Sunday that left one person dead and at least ten others injured.

Security has been tight across Pakistan, as U.S. war planes continue to bombard targets in neighboring Afghanistan in an effort to flush out suspected terrorists.

President General Pervez Musharraf says his government will not tolerate violent protests. But tensions are high here, especially as unconfirmed reports of civilian casualties in Afghanistan mount. Sunday, security forces clashed with demonstrators angry over reports U.S. troops are using a southern Pakistani airport.

Mr. Powell is visiting Pakistan and its rival India to thank both countries for their support for the American-led effort. He is also expected to address Pakistani concerns over the makeup of a future Afghan government, in case the ruling Taleban falls. Mr. Powell is also aiming to quell tensions between the two countries over Kashmir. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman Riaz Mohammed Khan says Kashmir will be high on the agenda. "It will cover, of course, the Afghan situation as it is evolving," the spokesman continued. "It will also focus on Pakistan-India relations and Kashmir, which is the root cause of tensions between the two countries."

Pakistan says it has given diplomatic support to militants in the region fighting Indian rule. Recent attacks there have caused added strain between the two sides.

Both countries are considered vital to the U.S. led fight against terrorism.