Pakistanis target bases U.S. may use
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Thousands of Islamic militants converged on a southern Pakistani town Sunday, fighting pitched battles with police and paramilitary troops as they surged toward an air base that U.S. personnel are reportedly using.
One person was killed and 24 were injured in daylong battles around Jacobabad, police said. The desert city is the home to one of two Pakistani air bases made available to U.S. forces to support the air campaign against Osama bin Laden.
As anger grew over U.S. airstrikes on Afghanistan, one militant leader exhorted followers to set Shabaz Air Base in Jacobabad on fire "at any cost," and another called on Pakistan's generals to overthrow the country's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Police and paramilitary troops fired tear gas to repel hundreds of demonstrators marching toward the base. Thousands of others massed along roads outside Jacobabad, prevented from reaching the city and base by a wall of armed authorities. Protesters also battled police in two villages outside the city.
Police said about 400 people had been arrested -- most in advance in an attempt to prevent the protests. Jacobabad, a city of about 200,000, was sealed off.
In a related demonstration several miles outside Jacobabad, one demonstrator was killed and 10 were injured, authorities and protest leaders said. The father of Mukhtar Khosio, the demonstrator who died, addressed protesters after learning about his son's death. "I have seven sons and just one has died," Maulana Shabir Khosio said. "I am ready to sacrifice six others, too, for the cause of Islam."
In Shikar Pur, about 20 miles north of Jacobabad, police opened fire on a surging crowd of demonstrators, authorities said. Fourteen people, including a police officer, were wounded, said Dr. Raza Khan of Shikar Pur Hospital.
Pakistan's military government has denied that U.S. armed services personnel and aircraft are in the country. The government insists it will not allow Pakistani territory to be used for attacks on Afghanistan.
But on Thursday, Pakistani officials confirmed to the Associated Press that the country has allowed U.S. military aircraft to land inside its borders. They said Musharraf also granted the United States use of at least two air bases during airstrikes inside Afghanistan.
Protest leaders have called for a nationwide strike today -- the day Secretary of State Colin Powell is to arrive in Pakistan to discuss the antiterror campaign.
The trouble in downtown Jacobabad started when a crowd that protest leaders said numbered in the thousands gathered outside a hotel and began marching toward the air base.
Heavily armed police who had been patrolling Jacobabad's streets for days warned them to stop, then fired tear gas shells into the crowd and bullets into the air. Protesters threw stones, then broke up into smaller groups that roved the city.
At a roadblock 15 miles south of town, nearly 2,500 demonstrators -- a caravan of buses and pedestrians that came from all over Pakistan -- waited at roadblocks. Police stopped them from proceeding to Jacobabad to join the protest. After a tense standoff that lasted for hours, they agreed to disperse.
The presence of U.S. personnel in Pakistan is extremely controversial in this Muslim country of 145-million people.
Islamic religious parties sympathetic to Afghanistan's ruling Taliban consider it a betrayal that their government is helping U.S.-led attempts to destroy terrorist installations in Afghanistan that belong to bin Laden, the top suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
Militant leaders have called for attacks on Shabaz and Pasni Air Base, another installation U.S. personnel are said to be using.
In Karachi, Qazi Hussain Mohammed, the head of the Jamat-I-Islami, Pakistan's biggest religious party, vowed that demonstrations would continue until his followers had overthrown Musharraf, who came to power two years ago in a military coup. "Musharraf has proven himself a traitor," he said. "Anyone who is killed in this campaign will go straight to paradise."
In Quetta, Abdul Ghafoor Hedri, general secretary of the smaller Jamiat-ulamae-Islam party, pledged that his followers, who flooded Jacobabad on Sunday, would "fight until the last drop of blood" to expel the U.S. military from Pakistan and Afghanistan. He also said he had instructed followers to attack the Pasni base.
"Go, go, go!!" Hedri shouted into a mobile phone as he spoke with followers in Jacobabad. "Do not let up!"
Hedri called for the demonstrations to include suicide bombers. "We will attack American soldiers," he vowed.
-- Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.
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