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Pakistanis Protest Drone Strike, CIA Contractor's Release


Pakistani protesters clashed with police in the city of Lahore.

Pakistani protesters clashed with police in the city of Lahore.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets across Pakistan, chanting slogans against the United States, to protest the release of a CIA contractor who was accused of murdering two Pakistanis, RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal reports.

Raymond Davis was set free on March 16 after $2 million was reportedly paid as blood money to the families of those he killed in Lahore.

There's also been widespread anger in Pakistan over a U.S. drone strike that killed 41 people in the North Waziristan region on March 17.

The drone strike drew rare criticism from Pakistan's army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who called it "unjustifiable and intolerable."

Politicians and tribal elders both in North Waziristan and in Pakistan's cities joined the chorus of condemnation.

A group of tribal elders addressed a press conference in Peshawar, warning of revenge for the attack.

Talking to RFE/RL, tribal elder Malak Taj Muhammad said all those killed in the drone strike were civilians.

"I condemn the attack and ask the elected members of the National Assembly and Senate from the tribal areas and the people to launch a protest demonstration against this cruel attack," Muhammad said.

Another tribal elder, Bakhtwar Madakhel, said that all those killed in the attack were tribal elders.

"It was a jirga discussing dispute on [ownership of] chromites from a mountain in the Datta Khel area," he said. "This attack is a wrong move."

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry today summoned the U.S. ambassador to Islamabad, Cameron Munter, to inform him that "such attacks were unacceptable."

A statement from the ministry later said, "Pakistan should not be taken for granted nor treated as a client state."

According to the statement, the first of its type since the beginning of drone strikes in 2004, Pakistan will not take part in talks planned for this month on the future of Afghanistan.

Islamabad will "not participate in the trilateral meeting between Afghanistan-Pakistan-U.S. proposed by the U.S. in Brussels on March 26," it said.

Drone Strikes

Pakistani government and army officials shy away from publicly accepting that they have an understanding with the United States over the drone strikes to target Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants in the tribal areas.

Available reports suggest that the pilotless spy planes carried out 124 missile attacks in the tribal areas in 2010 and 27 in 2011.

Asked why the army chief Kayani criticized this particular strike at this time, Brigadier Syed Azmat Ali, head of the military's press service told RFE/RL that the strike killed only civilians.

"It was condemned because it was indiscriminate and wrong and civilians were killed," Ali said. "We are in no doubt about terrorism. Terrorism has to be eliminated but this is not the right way. Instead, they can work on other options."

Drone strikes have been a bone of contention between Pakistan and the United States as the former says the attacks are increasing problems for the government.
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