ISLAMABAD, Dec 31: Businesses were closed and traffic remained off road in most cities and towns of the country on Friday on a strike call given by religious parties in protest against what they believe the government plans to change the blasphemy law.

The strike went ahead despite a categorical announcement on Thursday by federal Minister for Religious Affairs Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah that the government was not bringing any bill to amend the law.

Markets were closed and roads deserted in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Multan, Quetta and other cities and towns.

Demonstrators said their goal was to defend the honour of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

“We will start a civil disobedience movement if the government makes any amendment to the law,” the chairman of the Sunni Ittehad Council, Sahibzada Fazal Karim, said.Police said protesters near the residence of President Asif Ali Zardari in Karachi pelted stones as they shouted slogans “We'll sacrifice our lives – we'll save the sanctity of the Prophet (peace be upon him)”.

Teargas shells were fired to disperse them, witnesses said.

In Lahore, thousands of people participated in four protest demonstrations.

A large number of activists from different religious parties held three rallies in Multan during the shutter-down.

Hundreds of protesters rallied in main cities of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Political observers here said the religious parties' decision to go with their plan for the strike after the government's clear-cut announcement that it did not intend to repeal or change the law had more to do with politics than religion.

“We will not allow the government to bring about any change in the blasphemy law. If it tried to do so, we would send it packing,” Hafiz Hamdullah, a leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, told supporters at a rally in Quetta.

A loose alliance of over a dozen religious parties announced the general strike on Dec 15, a day after the JUI pulled out of the coalition when Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani sacked one of its ministers.—Agencies

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