Strike, Protests Paralyze Pakistan Before Bush Visit
ZEESHAN HAIDER / Reuters 3mar2006
ISLAMABAD — An Islamist-organized nationwide strike paralyzed Pakistan on Friday as it awaited the arrival of President George W. Bush a day after a suicide car bomber killed an American diplomat and two other people.
Bush was due to fly from New Delhi to Islamabad on Friday evening for the last leg of his tour of South Asia, and was expected to discuss progress in the war on terrorism in his talks with President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday.
The largest protest took place in Multan in the central Punjab province where the opposition leader in the National Assembly, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, addressed a 10,000-strong crowd.
The Muslim cleric told the protesters Bush's visit was aimed at "enslaving the Pakistani nation and rewarding General Musharraf for his patriotism to America".
White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters in India Bush's visit to Pakistan, a nation shown by polls to be among the most anti-American in the world, was not risk-free.
Security had been reinforced after the bomb attack outside the U.S. consulate in Karachi, Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao told Reuters.
"We revisited the whole plan again, but it was already a foolproof plan so a little bit of beefing up has been done."
FBI agents, according to Pakistani officials, have joined the investigation into the suicide car bomb attack in Karachi, where the diplomat, David Foy, and his driver were killed along with a paramilitary trooper and the bomber.
Hadley said the attack was "a reminder that we're at war, and that Pakistan is both an ally in the war on terror and in some sense a battleground in the war on terror".
Bush was intent, he said, in showing solidarity with Musharraf, who has survived several assassination attempts by al Qaeda-linked militants.
Bush has said that he would ask Musharraf to do more to shut down militant camps on Pakistani soil and stop cross-border infiltration -- something the Afghan and Indian leaders he met earlier on his tour have complained of.
In New Delhi, Bush agreed to provide Pakistan's traditional rival India with American technical know-how for civilian nuclear power. No such goodies were in store for Pakistan, though he was expected to seek ways to expand bilateral trade.
Opposition groups were hoping Bush would also encourage Musharraf, who came to power in a military coup seven years ago, to move faster to strengthen democratic institutions ahead of a general election next year.
Nationwide protests, ostensibly over cartoons deemed blasphemous of the Prophet Mohammad that originated in Denmark, were supported by government and opposition parties alike.
But it is Pakistan's political Muslim clerics who have made most capital over an issue they have used to express anti-American and anti-Musharraf sentiments.
Friday's protests were supposed to be the climax of a month of sometimes violent demonstrations that have resulted in a handful of deaths.
Protesters from a 1,000-strong march in the southern city of Karachi chased and beat a dog wrapped in the Stars and Stripes, while chanting slogans of "Allah-o-Akbar", "Taliban zindabad", and "Mullah Omar zindabad", or "God is Great", "Long live the Taliban" and "Long Live Mullah Omar".
Islamist opposition leaders vowed more protests on Saturday.
Security operations were in overdrive in Islamabad, a small, quiet, wooded city, ahead of Bush's arrival.
Sniffer dogs and electronic equipment were used to scour the airport and surrounding area, and there were checkpoints at entry points to the capital, while the broad Constitution Avenue leading to the presidency, parliament, government ministries, and the diplomatic enclave was closed off.
source: http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=worldNews&storyid=2006-03-03T124719Z_01_ISL175350_RTRUKOC_0_US-BUSH-PAKISTAN.xml 3mar2006