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Pakistan seals city amid protests

Violence continues elsewhere over Danish cartoons

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Security forces arrested hundreds of Islamic hard-liners, virtually sealed off the capital, and used gunfire and tear gas yesterday to quell protests over the Prophet Mohammed cartoons that were banned after a wave of deadly riots.

Elsewhere in the Muslim world, demonstrators with wooden staves and stones tried unsuccessfully to storm the US Embassy in Indonesia, while tens of thousands rallied in Istanbul and complained about negative Western perceptions of Islam.

Troops patrolled the deserted streets of the northern Nigerian town of Maiduguri, where thousands of Muslims attacked Christians and burned churches Saturday, killing at least 15 people during a protest over the cartoons. Most of the victims were beaten to death by rioters.

The cartoons, first published by a Danish newspaper in September and reprinted by other Western publications, have outraged Muslims. But protests over the past three weeks have grown into a broader anger against the West in general, and Israel and the United States in particular.

Demonstrations have turned increasingly violent and claimed at least 45 lives worldwide, including 11 in Afghanistan during a three-day span two weeks ago and 10 on Friday in the Libyan coastal city of Benghazi.

The Libyan riot outside the Italian consulate apparently was sparked by a right-wing Italian Cabinet minister who wore a T-shirt with a caricature of Mohammed.

Pakistani authorities ordered a protest ban after riots killed five people in two cities last week.

Yesterday, thousands of police and paramilitary troops manned armored personnel carriers and sandbag bunkers in and around Islamabad to block a planned rally organized by a coalition of hard-line Islamic parties that sympathizes with the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan and is fiercely anti-American.

As roadblocks went up around the capital, authorities declared they would arrest anyone joining a gathering of more than five people.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said 100 to 150 people had been arrested in the capital since late Saturday. Police also raided homes and offices overnight in the nearby city of Rawalpindi and the eastern hub of Lahore, rounding up about 300 people, including some lawmakers.

Qazi Hussain Ahmad, a top leader of the hard-line Islamic coalition, the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal (United Action Forum), was confined to his Lahore residence and others were detained or told to stay at home, police said.

''These people could create problems of law and order," said Chaudhry Shafqaat Ahmed, chief investigator of the Lahore police.

In Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, police said 15,000 coalition supporters, most wearing white shrouds of mourning splashed with red paint to symbolize their willingness to die defending the prophet's honor, rallied peacefully.

Twelve-year-old Amar Ahmed joined the protest, carrying a sign reading, ''O Allah, give me courage to kill the blasphemer."

Hundreds of Muslims burned a church in the southern city of Sukkur.

No worshippers were inside at the time, but one person was hurt afterward when police fired tear gas.

Akbar Arian, local police chief, said the riot was not sparked by the cartoons but by allegations that a local Christian had burned pages of Islam's holy book, the Koran -- another sign of the heightened sectarian tensions in this overwhelmingly Muslim nation.

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