ISLAMABAD, Jan 15: Protesters took to the streets all over Pakistan on Sunday to condemn a US air strike that officials said targeted Al Qaeda’s deputy leader but instead killed 18 villagers near the Afghan border. Demonstrators rallied in major cities including, Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Peshawar to vent their anger against Washington and President Gen Pervez Musharraf.

Pakistani officials said on Saturday that Al Qaeda’s number two, Ayman Al Zawahiri, was likely not killed in the strike blamed by officials and in reports on a Predator drone of the US Central Intelligence Agency.

Islamabad has lodged an official protest with the United States over the attack, but this did not deter thousands from venting their anger on Sunday.

Protesters in Islamabad chanted anti-US and anti-government slogans.

The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal had called for nationwide rallies to protest the 18 civilian deaths from Friday’s strike in the Damadola village in Bajaur.

Secular opposition parties and workers of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a partner in the ruling coalition, also joined the protests.

In Islamabad, about 200 activists rallied outside the Civic Centre and chanted anti-US slogans.

Banners and placards read: “American bombing on Pakistan is the result of policies of President Musharraf” and “Terrorist American troops should be expelled from Kashmir and Afghanistan.”

In Karachi, around 5,000 protesters took to the streets.

MMA leader Ghafoor Haidri in his speech to the rally urged Islamabad to “stop using Pakistani soldiers to kill Pakistanis in tribal areas”.

He added that “former US president George Bush should not be allowed to visit Pakistan until the US government apologises over the killings”.

In Lahore, some 200 protestors gathered in front of the local press club, which also faces the US consulate.

About 300 activists also rallied in Multan.

Some 500 protestors also took to the streets in Peshawar.

— AFP

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