ABBOTTABAD, Pakistan (AFP) – Hundreds of Pakistanis took to the streets on Friday, cheering Osama bin Laden and shouting “death to America” to condemn a unilateral US raid on their soil that killed the Al-Qaeda chief.
In Abbottabad, not far from where bin Laden was found and killed by US commandos in a shock operation on May 2, police marshalled a rally of about 1,000 men who gathered at the downtown bazaar to march after Friday prayers.
Setting fire to tyres and blocking a main road, the protesters yelled: “Down, down USA!” and “Terrorist, terrorist, USA terrorist”.
The crowd waved banners that condemned the Sunday-Monday overnight raid, which both the Pakistani and US governments have said was carried out without Pakistani leaders being given prior notice.
“If you want to save Pakistan, you will have to break the chains of American slavery,” read another banner.
Pakistan’s weak and fractured civilian government is widely unpopular among the country’s population of 170 million, and seen as a lackey to the United States.
Widespread anti-Americanism in Pakistan is fuelled by the 10-year war in neighbouring Afghanistan and a CIA drone war targeting Al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders who live in Pakistan’s tribal belt in the northwest.
Hundreds of people also gathered in the southwestern city of Quetta at the behest of the pro-Taliban Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) political party, where the crowd shouted “Long Live Osama,” called for holy war and burnt a US flag.
“Osama’s services for Muslims will be remembered forever,” said Abdul Qadir Looni, a senior JUI figure addressing the rally.
“He challenged the greatest Satan and usurper like America and awakened Muslims across the globe. This gathering pays tribute to him,” Looni said.
Hafiz Fazal Bareach, a former federal senator and senior party leader, said the US killing of bin Laden would create thousands of others like him.
“One Osama has been martyred and now thousands of Osamas will be born, because he created a movement against anti-Muslim forces which is not dependent on personalities,” Bareach said.
“America first martyred Osama and then desecrated his corpse,” he said, vowing that “jihad (holy war) will continue against America and its allies.”
Pakistan’s largest religious political party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) had called for protests across the country on Friday to denounce the US operation, but gatherings were not as large as some people had expected.
In the northwestern city of Peshawar some 400 people heeded JI’s call, shouting “Death to America”, “Death to Pakistani rulers” and “Long Live Osama”.
Another 300-man strong rally was held in the central city of Multan.
Friday is a traditional day of protest in the Muslim world, where demonstrations frequently take place after the main weekly prayers.
Pakistan on Thursday demanded that the United States cut its troop presence in the country to a “minimum” as the fallout from the raid intensified and threatened to review cooperation in the event of another similar operation.