LAHORE: Tens of thousands gathered in one of the biggest-ever protests in the Pakistani city of Lahore Sunday to condemn Nato and United States over the killing of 24 soldiers along the Afghan border.
The protestors, mainly from Islamist groups and political parties, vowed they would march to the capital Islamabad if the government did not cancel agreements between the US designed to fight terrorism.
“We will hold a march towards the capital if the government does not revoke agreements of cooperation in the war against terror with the US,” said Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, a senior leader of the Pakistan Defence Council (PDC).
About 3,000 activists from the Council, which organised the rally, also acted as guards in addition to a 1,000-strong police contingent Saeed, who heads the charity Jamaat-ud-Dawa and founded the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) faction blamed by India and the US for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, warned that “we will no longer tolerate any attacks on our soil.”
”The US should not turn its missions in Pakistan into spying stations,” he said, adding that “we will respect Americans if they live in Pakistan as guests but any other agenda will not be tolerated.”Saeed called on Pakistan's government to decide on a date that would see it take the country “out of the war against terror” and vowed “every sacrifice to preserve and uphold sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.”
Since the attacks last month, Pakistan has charged that US-led forces deliberately carried out the air strikes that killed the two dozen soldiers, but the US has insisted the November 26 incident was a regrettable mistake.
The incident came amid high tension between the US and Pakistan, whose military, long the country's most powerful institution, has been on the defensive since the secret US raid in May that killed Osama bin Laden.
In response, Pakistan has sealed its Afghan border to Nato supply convoys, boycotted the Bonn conference on the future of Afghanistan and ordered US personnel to vacate an air base reportedly used by CIA drones.
An AFP photographer present at Sunday's rally put the number of demonstrators at over 40,000 while two senior police officials said more than 70,000 people attended the protest.
Protestors waved the flags of their respective Islamist parties and shouted “friends of the US are traitors and long live Pakistan”.
Liaqat Baloch, a top leader of the radical Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party, told the rally: “We will not allow Pakistan to become a colony of the US.”