| Policemen arrest a protester in Rawalpindi. (AFP)
Islamabad, March 3: Pakistan ground to a shuddering halt today after the Opposition religious alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal called a nationwide strike to protest against the visit of President George W. Bush.
Roads were deserted, business centres empty and shops closed all over Pakistan. Eventhe Islamabad airport was closed to air traffic and will remain so till Bush leaves. The tribal region bordering Afghanistan was also affected by the strike.
In Islamabad, security was beefed up for Bush’s visit. Mobile units of paramilitary forces were deployed on all the major intersections. Radical protesters were not allowed to hold rallies in these areas.
In Rawalpindi, the protesters, mostly belonging to the radical Shia group Tehrik-e-Jaffariya, Pakistan (TJP), chanted anti-Bush slogans and described him as a “killer of Muslims”.
“Police baton-charged our students and arrested nine of them,” a TFJ spokesman said in Rawalpindi.
The police also baton-charged over 1,000 protesters in Karachi, where security was beefed up after the suicide bombing yesterday which killed American diplomat David Foy, his driver and a paramilitary trooper.
The police detained dozens of protesters after they threw stones at police vehicles not very far from the US mission.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) today joined the investigation by the Karachi police into the attack. The FBI agents visited the bombing site and interviewed some witnesses.
The investigators were preparing a sketch of the bomber based on surveillance camera images from the consulate and the Marriott Hotel as well as eyewitness accounts.
In Lahore and Peshawar, MMA leaders addressed protest rallies and thanked the people for supporting the strike call.
The largest protest was in Multan in the central Punjab province where the Opposition leader in the National Assembly, Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, addressed a 10,000-strong crowd.
He told the protesters that Bush’s visit was aimed at “enslaving the Pakistani nation and rewarding General Musharraf for his patriotism to America”.
In a separate development, the police arrested a Belgian national in Lahore for suspected terrorist links.
Pakistan’s interior minister Aftab Sherpao told local TV channels that the Belgian, who had arrived in Pakistan on a valid visa, was arrested at the request of the Belgian government.