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Thousands rally against Musharraf

From CNN Producer Syed Mohsin Naqvi

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Thousands of demonstrators in Karachi rallied against the Musharraf government.
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LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- Tens of thousands of people from all religious parties have staged a rally in Karachi against Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, declaring him unacceptable because of his pro-American policies.

During Sunday's rally, Muthaida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), an alliance of Islamic parties, called for a nationwide general strike on April 2 to protest rising unemployment and inflation, the promotion of secularism and the exclusion of religious affiliations on passports.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan-Muslim League, announced he would support the strike.

Qazi Hussain Ahmed, president of the Islamic parties' alliance, told demonstrators the march marks the beginning of the opposition's campaign to oust Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999.

"The illegal government of General Musharraf will end shortly and we will not accept another American tout now as Musharraf's replacement," he said.

Musharraf has been a strong supporter of the United States in its war on terrorism. During a visit to Pakistan last week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice lauded Pakistan for its role, and for helping promote stability in neighboring Afghanistan. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding along the border with Afghanistan.

Rice, who met Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Wednesday, called Thursday on Pakistan to continue down "a democratic path" that will lead to free and fair elections in 2007, but also praised Musharraf's courage.

Among those who attended Sunday'sopposition march were former cricket champion and leader of the Tehrik-e-Insaaf, Imran Khan. The group is one of the country's main political parties.

"Musharraf is playing into the hands of America and destroying the Islamic Identity of Pakistan," said Maulana Fazlur-Rahman, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly.

"We will continue the struggle against President Musharraf until he is ousted from power," he said.

He said Musharraf would face consequences if he were to hand over to any other country the man deemed responsible for passing nuclear secrets to other nations, A. Q. Khan.

Khan is considered a national hero in Pakistan for his role in making the country a nuclear power.

Some U.S. leaders have called for Khan to be extradited so that officials can learn what countries have obtained the nuclear secrets.

Fazlur-Rahman also warned the United States not to interfere in Pakistani internal issues.

Many in the crowd carried banners inveighing against the United States and Musharraf. "Musharraf motto is to kill the people, rob the people and lick the boots of Americans," said one sign.

Alliance representatives said they would hold rallies against Musharraf during the coming weeks.


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