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Pakistani Islamists Stage Anti-US Demonstrations

In Pakistan, security forces were on high alert as several thousand of supporters of Islamic parties across the country demonstrated against the United States and its possible military action against Iraq. The number of demonstrators was relatively small, in the nation of 140 million people, but the protests were angry.

The anti-American demonstrations were called by a major alliance of Islamic parties after Friday prayers. The alliance is known as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal or MMA, which gained unprecedented support in recent general elections.

Some 1,500 protesters in the central city of Multan burned an effigy of President Bush.

In the Pakistani capital, about 400 people gathered in the center of the city and chanted "down with America, long live Saddam Hussein." They were carrying banners reading: "American Terrorism" and "Stop the Holocaust against Muslims."

Addressing the rally, a senior member of the religious alliance, Sami ul-Haq, said if America attacks Iraq, it will be an attack on the Islamic world.

He says U.S. nationals in Pakistan and other parts of the world will not be safe.

Extra police and paramilitary forces were deployed around foreign missions and sensitive installations in the country to guard against an outbreak of violence.

The demonstrators in the nationwide rallies also criticized the Pakistani government for allowing U.S. law enforcement officials to conduct raids against suspected militants linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Analysts, such as retired Brigadier General Shaukat Qadir, say U.S. actions in Pakistan and in neighboring Afghanistan have given rise to anti-American feelings in the region. He says that Islamic parties victories in recent elections is an indication of this growing anti-U.S. sentiments. "This is going to increase and I gravely apprehend [sic] that if the Americans keep acting unilaterally against Muslims that they are threatening to do in Iraq and Iran, then there may be a greater upsurge of this feeling of being differentiated against," he said. "You cannot have Israel doing what it is doing and expect the rest of the Muslim world to suffer under the American war against terrorism."

Pakistan is closely cooperating with the U.S. led anti-terrorism coalition. The predominantly Muslim nation is opposed to unilateral action against Iraq but says it will support any U.N. Security Council decision on the issue.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military says it reserves the right to enter Pakistan in pursuit of enemy fighters who flee Afghanistan. A spokesman says this has been a long-standing policy and one that the Pakistan government accepts as necessary in the war on terrorism.