Nationwide Strike Called in Pakistan

Merchants by the thousands kept shops shuttered across Pakistan on Monday after Muslim leaders called for a national strike against government support of U.S.-led military strikes on Afghanistan. 

It was not immediately clear how many businesses supported the strike and how many closed because of intimidation by members of militant Islamic parties, who have threatened and sometimes attacked noncompliant merchants during recent demonstrations.

Nearly every store was reported closed in the Taliban-friendly border city of Quetta, and the entire business district was shuttered in the southern town of Jacobabad, site of large anti-American demonstrations Sunday near Shahbaz Air Base, which U.S. personnel are using.

However, in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, many businesses were reported open. Authorities said five demonstrators were wounded there during scattered clashes between authorities and small roving mobs. One man was shot in a similar incident in the northern city of Hyderabad, authorities there said.

Some stores also were shuttered in Lahore, a major eastern city where one police officer was injured Monday by stones.

Outraged by President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's support of the American-led coalition against terrorism, militant Islamic political parties have been protesting since Oct. 7 when U.S. and British planes began attacking Afghanistan.

Some demonstrations have turned violent, notably in the cities of Quetta and Karachi, though only several thousand of Pakistan's 145 million people have been involved. Militant leaders say Musharraf has betrayed the nation and have called for his ouster.

The strike Monday also was aimed at protesting a scheduled visit later in the day by Secretary of State Colin Powell, according to Maulana Samiul Haq, head of the Afghan Defense Council, a pro-Taliban coalition of 35 Islamic Groups.

``We have asked our followers to exact pressure on the Pakistani government to force Musharraf to send American troops back to their country,'' said Haq, released Monday from a government-ordered house arrest designed to stop him from leading more demonstrations.

About 500 people who had been detained in Jacobabad during the weekend — many as a preventative measure — were released Monday morning, Police Chief Akhtar Shah said. ``They have promised they will be peaceful,'' he said.

Still, many demonstrators remained in and around the sealed-off city, and the situation was reported tense.

Services were set for Monday in Jacobabad for Mukhtar Khosio, a demonstrator killed during Sunday's protests. His father, Maulana Shabir Khosio, who hours earlier had called for holy war, urged protesters to ``remain cool and calm'' and not damage public property.

In Peshawar, many shops and businesses opened on schedule. But groups of demonstrators from religious schools took up position in front of open businesses to enforce the strike, shouting and shaking fists until owners closed.

Special police anti-terrorism units took up position at key intersections in armored personnel carriers. Near a central mosque, a couple hundred people gathered and waved flags from different Pakistani religious political parties as a speaker whipped up passions.

``We will make Afghanistan a graveyard for Americans and their allies,'' he said, his voice hoarse with emotion. ``If America wants us to surrender Osama, they should surrender President Bush. He is responsible for killing innocent people.''

In Karachi, two policemen guarding a Shiite mosque were shot to death overnight, though it was unclear if their deaths were related to U.S.-related demonstrations. Violence between Shiites and Sunnis, another branch of Islam, is common in Karachi.

Smaller U.S.-related clashes were reported in southern Pakistan, where 14 people were arrested in different areas, authorities in Sind province said.

Around Jacobabad, in addition to Khosio's death, 24 people were injured Sunday in daylong battles near the base, one of two Pakistani air bases reportedly made available to U.S. forces to support the air campaign against Osama bin Laden and his Afghanistan-based terror network.

Last week, the government officially denied the presence of U.S. personnel, though its language has grown more ambiguous in recent days.

Javed Khosio, 33, an importer and exporter in Jacobabad, echoed many other area residents' comments, saying he has seen U.S.-marked aircraft frequently in recent days.

``They take off in the morning and come back at night,'' he said Monday. ``We have no idea where they go and where they're coming from.''