Pakistani Islamists Ask Army to Topple Musharraf
Friday, October 26, 2001 3:04 PM EST
QUETTA, Pakistani (Reuters) - Pakistan's largest Islamic party called on Friday for the army to topple military ruler General Pervez Musharraf for backing U.S.-led military strikes on neighboring Afghanistan.
``God-willing we will remove Musharraf from power and drag him on to the streets,'' the deputy head of Jamaat-i-Islami, Liaquat Baluch, told thousands of people at a rally in support of Afghanistan's Taliban rulers.
``We also ask the Pakistan army, its corps commanders and staff officers to take a decision according to their conscience and rid the nation of Musharraf to save the country's future from deterioration, because he is now a risk for the country's security,'' he said.
The call was the first direct appeal for the army to act against Musharraf since the start of protests over the Afghan policy, which have so far failed to make much impact on the streets of Pakistan.
Baluch deputized for Jamaat's leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, who was barred by authorities from reaching Quetta, capital of the southwestern province of Baluchistan.
Speeches following Friday prayers have become a weekly fixture and this rally attracted several thousand people to a sports stadium.
``Pakistani people are against Musharraf's policy and his cowardness,'' Baluch said. ``Now he is ineligible to be head of the country and he cannot remain the commander of the Pakistani army.''
Musharraf has offered the United States intelligence information, the use of Pakistan's airspace and logistical support for the U.S. campaign against the Taliban and Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden, who is accused of planning the September 11 attacks on the United States.
This month Musharraf removed or sidelined key army generals seen as holding hardline Islamic or pro-Taliban views, including three involved in the bloodless 1999 coup that put him in power.
The acting leader of the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) party, Maulana Abdul Ghani, told the rally that Islamic parties would launch ``direct action'' if Musharraf did not change his pro-American policy.
With rallies so far proving smaller than predicted, Musharraf says most Pakistanis support the country's withdrawal of support for the Taliban and its revived friendship with America.
``Whoever is a friend of America is a traitor,'' chanted protesters at the rally in Quetta, where hospitals receive Afghans injured by U.S. bombing.
The crowd burned effigies of both Musharraf and President Bush at the rally, from which organizers barred foreign women journalists.
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