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Pakistani Islamists Protest Over NATO Supply Routes

Thousands of supporters of hard-line religious groups have marched into the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, to protest their government's decision to reopen supply lines for U.S.-led NATO troops in Afghanistan.

Pakistan closed NATO supply routes to Afghanistan in November after a cross-border NATO air attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. They were reopened last week after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apologized for the strike.

Some 15,000 protesters gathered on July 9 outside the Pakistani parliament after the march to chant anti-U.S. slogans.

The "long march," which started in the eastern city of Lahore, was organized by the Defense of Pakistan Council, an alliance of over 40 religious political parties and organizations campaigning for a break in ties with the United States and India.

"Freedom from war is not so simple that it just requires one rally or one long march," Maulana Samiul-Haq, the leader of the council, told the crowd. "The people of Afghanistan have been fighting for the last 35 years. They have sacrificed tens of thousands of lives. We have to learn from them."

One of the council's main leaders is Hafiz Saeed, whom India suspects of masterminding attacks on India's financial capital, Mumbai, and its parliament. Saeed denies any involvement in the attacks.

Saeed told the participants that U.S. drone attacks on Pakistani territory must stop along with what he called "American slavery."

"This is the first time that a coalition of various parties has been formed to free the country from American slavery, and it has given birth to a grand movement. May Allah grant success to this movement," Saeed told the protesters.

"At this point in time," he added, "we cannot accept the resumption of NATO supplies, of sending arms to NATO and American forces and the mass killing of Muslims. We cannot put up with the drone attacks any more. In fact the presence of America and its allies in this region cannot be tolerated any more."

Samiul Haq told the crowds that the next actions of the council will be two long marches toward the Afghan border from the Pakistani cities of Quetta and Peshawar starting on July 14.
Withl reporting by AFP and Reuters
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