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Protests spread in Muslim Asia

Karachi protest
Police chase protesters in Karachi  

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Protests grew in Pakistan and other predominantly Muslim countries in Asia as demonstrators took to the streets against possible U.S. reprisals in Afghanistan.

At least two people were killed in widespread strikes and demonstrations Friday in Pakistan's largest city, the deputy inspector general of Karachi police said.

The deaths are the first attributable to the protests over the Pakistani government's decision to support the United States in its war against terrorism.

Thousands of protesters demonstrated against the country's support for U.S. action over Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect of last week's hijacked airliner attacks on New York and Washington.

Several thousand people turned out as rallies began in the cities of Peshawar, Islamabad, Quetta and Lahore following services at mosques on the Muslim day of prayer.

Some of the demonstrations were smaller than expected, and most started peacefully in cities whose markets remained closed and streets empty of traffic.

Most peaceful

Dozens of similar protests and rallies were being held across the country on Friday, but most were peaceful.

In Dakha, the capital of Bangladesh, nearly 10,000 Muslims, pouring out of mosques after a special prayer for victims of recent attacks in New York and Washington, held a noisy protest.

The protesters carried portraits of Saudi-born militant bin Laden, burned an effigy of U.S. President George W. Bush, and held up placards inscribed with anti-U.S. remarks.

"Down with America. We are for justice and protection of Muslims and their faith Islam," chanted the crowds as they marched through streets.

Riot police armed with guns and shields followed the protesters but did not try to disperse them.

Bangladesh, one of the world most populous Muslim countries, has promised full cooperation with the United States in its fight against terrorism, and said Washington could use Bangladesh's airspace, ports and other facilities to pursue its goals.

Secular policy

About 87 percent of Bangladesh's 130 million population are Muslims but successive governments have pursued a secular policy that helped keep communal harmony.

Police fired tear gas shells on hundreds of demonstrators in Indian Kashmir on Friday after they burned the American flag in protest against possible U.S. strikes on Afghanistan.

Demonstrators gathered outside the biggest mosque in the city of Srinagar, vowing to defend Afghanistan, where bin Laden is believed to be hiding.

"Afghan warriors, we are with you! Long live Afghanistan! Long live Pakistan!" they chanted as they burned and trampled the American flag immediately after Friday prayers in the summer capital of India's Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state.

General strike

The Himalayan state, damaged for nearly 12 years by a rebellion against Indian rule, was gripped on Friday by a general strike which was called by guerrilla groups to express solidarity with the Afghan people.

Indonesia's police said on Friday that snipers had been assigned to protect the U.S. embassy after threats of violence by Muslim radicals if the United States launches military operations in response to last week's attacks.

About 50 students, some buring paper American flags and blocked by dozens of riot police, protested outside the embassy in central Jakarta following Friday midday prayers. But there were no reports of violence.

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