ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Radical Islamic leaders on Monday called for more rallies against the Prophet Muhammad cartoons in Pakistan as lawmakers disrupted a session of Parliament, protesting sweeping arrests before a banned demonstration over the weekend.
The rowdy opposition legislators forced the lower house of parliament, or National Assembly, to adjourn indefinitely after they stood up and chanted anti-government slogans. They also demanded a debate about the roundup of hundreds of Islamic hard-liners before Sunday's protest in the capital, Islamabad.
One of those detained was Qazi Hussain Ahmed, a leader of a six-party coalition of radical Islamic parties, called Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), or United Action Forum.
The MMA sympathizes with the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan and is fiercely anti-U.S.
Authorities held Ahmed and others because they feared the coalition's rally would become violent like others have in the past week. Despite the leaders' detention, protesters clashed with police for about three hours on Sunday.
After Ahmed was freed from house detention late Sunday he traveled to the capital Islamabad on Monday for a meeting with senior leaders in the alliance.
Ahmed and Maulana Fazlur Rahman, a lawmaker from the coalition and opposition leader in the parliament, jointly announced that a series of new rallies against the cartoons and the government would be held.
Nationwide protests will be held after prayers on Friday — the Islamic sabbath, Rahman said.
"Our movement to protect the dignity of the prophet will continue unless the culprit apologizes and assures that he will not commit this kind of a crime in the future," Rahman said.
The coalition also planned rallies on Sunday and March 3.
The rallies appeared to be taking on more of an anti-government dimension as anger simmered about the massive roundup before Sunday's rally. About 3,463 supporters of MMA were arrested across the country, said Shahid Shamsi, a spokesman for the group.
"This is very unwise of the government to stop us from demonstrations," Shamsi said, adding that Friday's protest will have a dual purpose: condemning the cartoons and the government of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam told reporters the government respects the people's right to protest — if they are peaceful.
"When they turn into violent acts, we also damage our image," Aslam said.
Also on Monday, about 200 activists rallied through the northwestern city of Peshawar. They chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Musharraf" as they marched through a crowded bazaar.
Last week, a Pakistani cleric in Peshawar announced a $1 million bounty for killing a cartoonist who first drew the cartoons for the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten.
The cleric did not name the cartoonist and did not appear aware that 12 different people had drawn the pictures, published in September.
On Monday, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said offering the reward was tantamount to terrorism.
"When money is put on the cartoonists' heads, then terror is also being used," he told reporters in the Danish capital, Copenhagen.
He also noted that violent protests have been tapering off in many Muslim nations while escalating in Pakistan. He accused "extremist forces" of fanning the flames.