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Thousands Gather in Pakistan to Protest Looming War in Iraq - 2003-03-09

In Pakistan, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Rawalpindi to show solidarity with the people of Iraq and protest a possible U.S.-led war against Baghdad. The rally was organized by an alliance of six Islamic parties that made a strong showing in parliamentary elections last year. This was the second massive anti-war rally in Pakistan in a week.

The demonstrators chanted, "Down with friends of America," "Down with President Bush," "Down with President Pervez Musharraf" and "God is Great."

Speakers at the rally warned President Musharraf not to side with the United States, as it seeks backing for a U.N. Security Council resolution that could pave the way for military action against Iraq. Pakistan, which currently holds a seat on the Security Council has not made clear how it will vote on the resolution.

Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the head of the fundamentalist Jamatt-e-Islami party, demanded that Pakistan vote against the proposed resolution.

Other leaders of opposition parties in Pakistan's parliament, such as Imran Khan, also addressed the rally. Mr. Khan said that Pakistan's government has no choice, but to oppose the resolution. "The entire population is against what is going to happen to Iraq. No one believes that this is a moral war. No one feels that this is a just war. If the [Pakistani] government does not oppose the United Nations resolution in the Security Council, there will be tremendous hatred against it [the government]," he said.

Last Sunday, about 70,000 people rallied in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, against a possible war in Iraq. It was the biggest anti-U.S. protest in Pakistan in many years.

The Pakistani government has said that all options for a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis should be explored. The government, which is a key ally in the U.S.-led global war on terrorism, fears that any attack on Iraq could lead to unrest among its mainly Muslim population.