ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -The head of Pakistan’s main Islamist alliance was freed from a day of house arrest on Monday and immediately vowed to broaden a campaign against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad to target the Pakistani and U.S. presidents.
Qazi Hussain Ahmed, president of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) alliance, was detained in Lahore at the weekend to prevent him leading a rally in the capital, Islamabad, on Sunday.
After chairing an MMA meeting in Islamabad on Monday, he called publication of the cartoons in Europe “part of the clash of civilisations led by (U.S. President George W.) Bush.”
“Therefore our movement is against Bush as well as against Mush,” he told a news briefing, referring to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in Bush’s war on terrorism.
MMA Secretary General Fazul-ur-Rehman said the alliance planned a countrywide protest on Friday, another in Lahore on Sunday, and a nationwide general strike on March 3.
He said other protests would take place in Karachi, the country’s commercial capital, on March 5, and in Quetta, capital of the troubled southwestern province of Baluchistan, on March 7.
The planned protests could coincide with a visit to Pakistan by Bush, expected in early March, although no dates for this visit have yet been announced.
Cartoons first published in a Danish newspaper and reprinted in other European papers have sparked worldwide protests by Muslims who believe it is blasphemous to depict the Prophet.
Some have turned violent, raising fears of a clash of civilisations between the West and Islam.
The protests in Pakistan, in which five people died last week, have increasingly targeted Musharraf’s military-led government for its alliance with the West.
The secretary-general of Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s Jamaat-i-Islami party, Syed Munawar Hussan, vowed on Sunday that the protests would continue “until General Musharraf falls,” although such vows have frequently fallen flat in the past.
The MMA says 3,463 opposition supporters were detained to prevent them joining a rally on Sunday in Islamabad and most remained in detention, including some members of parliament.
The government has said arrests were made but gave no figure.
Despite the crackdown, police cordons, tear-gassing and warning shots, around 1,000 protesters took part in the protest, chanting religious and anti-government slogans.
They lampooned Musharraf, who is currently on a state visit to China, as a lackey of the U.S. president and chanted “Bush has reared a dog wearing a uniform.”
The MMA has been bitterly opposed to Musharraf since he reneged on a deal to give up his dual role as army chief in return for the alliance’s backing for constitutional changes giving him sweeping powers.
The protesters in Islamabad demanded the recall of Pakistani ambassadors from all countries where the cartoons were published.
Pakistan has issued diplomatic protests over the cartoons and on Friday recalled its ambassador from Denmark.
On Sunday, Denmark said its ambassador to Pakistan had come home temporarily having closed the Islamabad embassy because of security risks.
The editor of Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that first printed the cartoons, has apologised, and the text of the apology was printed in Saudi Arabian papers on Sunday.
A leading cleric in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar has offered a reward to anyone who kills one of the Danish cartoonists responsible.