KARACHI, Pakistan – Thousands of people shouting "God is Great!" marched through a southern Pakistan city on Thursday and burned effigies of the Danish prime minister in the country's fourth day of protests over cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, police said.
About 5,000 police and paramilitary forces, wearing helmets and wielding guns and shields, were deployed along the two-mile route of the rally to prevent the violence that has plagued other protests throughout the country this week, said Mushtaq Shah, chief of police operations in the southern city of Karachi.
About 40,000 people took part in the demonstration, which ended peacefully, said Shahnawaz Khan, a senior Karachi police officer.
Protesters burned Danish flags and chanted "God's curse be on those who insulted the prophet." The government ordered educational institutions to close for the day and many shops in the city — a hotbed of Islamic militancy — were shut. Most public transport was off the roads.
The "movement to protect the prophet's sanctity will continue until the pens of the blasphemous people are broken and their tongues get quiet," said Shah Turabul Haq, the head of Jamat Ahl-e-Sunnat, the Sunni Muslim group that organized the rally.
Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and visiting Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday appealed for European and other Western nations to condemn the cartoons, saying freedom of the press did not mean the right to insult the religious beliefs of others.
The drawings were first published in a Danish newspaper in September and later reprinted by other media, mainly in Europe. Many Muslims regard any depiction of the Prophet Muhammad as blasphemous. One of the drawings depicted the prophet with a turban shaped like a bomb.
Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said Wednesday that the Iraqi government had asked Denmark to keep its troops in Iraq, despite demands for a withdrawal by the provincial council in Basra, the town where the 530-strong Danish contingent is based.
The council had demanded that the Danish troops withdraw unless Denmark apologized for the cartoons. But Denmark asked for a clarification from Iraq's government, which replied Wednesday, Moeller said.
"What we have learned is that the Iraqi government asks us to stay. They believe that Danish soldiers are doing a very brave job," he told Danish broadcaster DR.
On Wednesday, a protest by more than 70,000 Pakistanis in the northwestern city of Peshawar dissolved into deadly riots by stone-throwing and gun-wielding youths, who targeted foreign businesses.
The unrest followed similar riots Tuesday in Lahore, where U.S. and other Western business properties were vandalized and the provincial lawmakers' assembly set on fire.
Five people have been killed in protests in Pakistan this week.
Ameer ul-Azeem, a spokesman for United Action Forum, an opposition coalition of religious parties that have organized most of the protests in Pakistan, said television footage of violent attacks by protesters on embassies in other countries had prompted Pakistanis to do the same.
He appealed for people to avoid violence in more demonstrations the coalition plans for later this month, but didn't expect people to follow his advice. "At least, there will be one violent protest in every village, town and city," he said.
Also Thursday, more than 1,000 traders also held a rally in the eastern city of Multan, closing most shops, said police officer Sharif Zafar.