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Pak clashes worsen, 3 dead

Islamabad, Feb 15: Three people, including a young boy, were killed in renewed violence against the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.

At least 20,000 people, including traders, students and Islamist radicals, protested in cities in the North West frontier Province (NWFP) and the eastern city of Lahore.

According to the police, while majority of the protests were peaceful, one man was killed during a shootout between students and the police in Lahore, where two people were killed yesterday.

In Peshawar, a seven-year-old boy was killed by a stray bullet that had been fired into the air and a man died after an electricity pole fell on him, police and hospital officials said.

Police fired tear gas in Peshawar and several other towns in NWFP to disperse small groups of protesters who set ablaze two franchises of Norwegian mobile telephone firm Telenor, a KFC fast food outlet, as well as banks cinemas and petrol stations.

A meeting of the Pakistan cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz warned protesters of stern action for damaging public property and appealed to the demonstrators to remain peaceful.

However, a senior minister in NWFP’s Islamist government, Sirajul Haq, criticised President Pervez Musharraf and Aziz for not taking a clear position on the issue.

“Violence could have been averted had the President and the Prime Minister taken a clear and categorical position on the issue,” said Haq, whose Muttahida Majlis-e-Ammal (MMA) rules the province.

However, he added, the reaction to the cartoons is natural as every Muslim takes pride in giving his life to uphold the honour and respect of the Prophet Mohammed.

NWFP chief minister Mohammad Akram Durrani blamed unidentified saboteurs, while police in the town of Tank pointed to supporters of radical Taliban guerrillas.

At least one policeman was wounded in an exchange of fire in Tank. Police superintendent Hussain Habib Gill said the man killed in Lahore today was hit in crossfire after police went to rescue an officer who had been abducted by students.

Gill said it was not known who fired the shot. He said the officer was rescued, but students had broken both his legs.

China workers killed

Unidentified gunmen killed three Chinese workers and their driver in a drive-by shooting in Hub, 15 km from Karachi, today, just days before Musharraf visits China.

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