ISLAMABAD: Thousands of people took to the streets across Pakistan on Friday to protest a US drone strike that killed 35 people this week and the release of a CIA contractor who had been held for murder.
Security was tight and the US embassy in Islamabad and its consulates in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar were closed in anticipation of public anger, but fears of violence proved unfounded with fewer demonstrators than expected.
Some 3,000 people rallied outside Islamabad's Red Mosque against the release of US national Raymond Davis, a contractor with the Central Intelligence Agency who shot dead two Pakistanis in January, an AFP reporter said.
The protesters chanted “Friends of the US are traitors”, “Down with America” and “Hang Zardari”, a reference to unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari who has called for ties with the United States to be maintained.
More than 1,500 people rallied in the eastern cultural hub of Lahore, including demonstrators from the religious Jamaat-e-Islami party and outlawed religious party Jamaat-ud-Dawa, and from the party headed by cricket hero turned politician Imran Khan.
They burned US flags, chanting “Go America, go” and “Go Zardari, go,” an AFP reporter said.
Davis was set free on Wednesday after $2 million was paid as blood money to the families of those he killed in a busy Lahore street.
His release was widely condemned among the Pakistani public and media, and anti-US sentiments rose after missiles fired from an unmanned US aircraft on Wednesday killed 35 people including civilians and police.
Jamaat-e-Islami chief Munawar Hassan accused Pakistani intelligence services of reaching a deal with the CIA for Davis' freedom.
“(Our) rulers were fully part of the deal that led to Davis' release,” he said.
In the central city of Multan, about 400 people chanted slogans against the United States and Pakistani government, charging their rulers with “bartering the national honour for their own luxuries,” witnesses said.
In Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan tribal district where recent drone attacks have been concentrated, more than 1,000 tribesmen called for an immediate end to drone strikes and compensation to victims' families.
They shouted “Death to America” and “Recall our ambassador to America”, while local cleric Maulvi Mohammad Rooman, who led the rally, condemned the latest drone attack, calling it “intolerable”.
Pakistan's civilian and military leaders have already condemned Thursday's drone strike against a militant hideout in North Waziristan tribal region and demanded an apology and explanation from the United States.
Civilians and police were among those killed when US missiles ploughed into a compound in Datta Khel town, 40 kilometres (25 miles) west of Miranshah.
Intelligence sources in Peshawar said the dead included 12 Taliban militants.