50,000 protest in Karachi
* Protesters disperse peacefully
* Shutdown in Multan
By Hasan Mansoor
KARACHI: Around 50,000 people attended a peaceful demonstration here on Thursday to protest the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in newspapers across Europe.
Meanwhile, a complete shutter-down strike was observed in Multan city and cantonment area and Dera Ghazi Khan at a call by 200 traders’ organisations.
The main demonstration at MA Jinnah Road in Karachi was organised by Ahle Sunnat-o-Jamaat (ASJ). No one was hurt in the rally and there were no reports of damage to property.
However, a few demonstrators burned the Danish and American flags at one point during the rally, but were immediately warned by the protest leaders. “You may express your anger by tearing flags but you must not burn any flags or effigies,” a senior ASJ leader said on the loudspeaker. The rally ended on the time that the organisers had earlier promised the authorities. After speeches, the participants were asked to disperse, and markets nearby opened half an hour later. “We had assured shopkeepers that no damage would be done to their establishments,” ASJ convenor Mufti Munibur Rehman told Daily Times.
A number of small processions started trickling in at the mausoleum and Gurumandir Roundabout from 9:00am. But within two hours, a sea of people had covered the length and breadth of one of the busiest roads of the city.
The police and city administration had blocked lanes and by-lanes cutting across MA Jinnah Road for security, which caused traffic jams on alternate routes. The administration adopted security measures well before the people started gathering. Police and paramilitary personnel were deployed along MA Jinnah Road and surrounding areas, following violence during demonstrations in other parts of the country. The rally moved towards the overhead bridge near Tibet Centre, where a sound system had been installed. The rally appeared to stretch all the way back to the Old Numaish Roundabout. A partial strike was observed in view of the recent tendency of protests to turn violent. Several schools were closed while attendance at government and private offices was thin.
“There was no call for a strike today (Thursday) but people stayed indoors, fearing violence during protests as they have seen in other cities,” said a security official.
In Multan, schools, banks and offices remained closed and public transport was suspended for the day. A large rally started from Masjid Wali Muhammad under Traders’ Alliance Chairman Khawaja Muhammad Shafiq, Malik Nazir Ahmed Awan, chairman of the Cantonment Board Traders’ Organisation of Pakistan and Union Nazim Akhtar Alam Qureshi. Participants carried placards and banners inscribed with slogans, chanting “Down with Denmark” “Down with George W Bush” and “Sever ties with blasphemers”. The crowd dispersed peacefully at Chowk Hussain Agahi after burning effigies of the US president and the Danish prime minister. Addressing the rally, Shafiq and Awan threatened to surround offices of the city district nazim and the Multan district coordination officer if the traders and political detainees, arrested for violent protests a day earlier, were not released within 24 hours.