15,000 Islamic militants rally against Powell visit

QUETTA: The southwest Pakistani city of Quetta was shut down Monday in line with a nationwide strike as about 15,000 Islamic militants rallied against a visit by US secretary of state Colin Powell.

The crowd filled a disused cricket stadium for a third time since October 7, when the US began its retaliation for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

"America must die" the crowd yelled in unison as Taliban battle flags flew across the stadium. Demonstrators gave clenched-fist salutes and chanted their support for the Taliban regime and alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

The rally was organised by the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and protestors again lashed-out at Pakistan's military ruler Pervez Musharraf, his support for the US campaign and the detention of senior JUI leaders. JUI chief Fazalur Rahman was released from house arrest in the southern capital of Karachi on Sunday only to be arrested again early Monday after travelling overland to Quetta.

"Musharraf has no respect for allowing infidel forces on the sacred land of Pakistan to attack a neighbouring Muslim country where true Islamic laws are enforced," a cleric, Maulana Haqqani, told the rally.

Another cleric, Hafiz Hussain Sharoodi, said Powell would be able "to gauge the sentiments of Muslims and their sentiments against Americans."

Powell was scheduled to arrive in Pakistan late Monday and then travel to India. Afghanistan and Kashmir are expected to figure prominently in talks with leaders from both countries.

His arrival came as American-led bombardments which senior Islamic religious figures here have described as terrorism entered a second week.

"America is evil. It always played havoc on Muslim lands like Washington is doing now in Palestine," Sharoodi said.

The rally dispersed peacefully amid a heavy police and military presence. ( AFP )