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Two dead in Pakistan cartoon protests

The demonstrators were killed by a security guard as they tried to attack a bank in the eastern city of Lahore.

india Updated: Feb 14, 2006 19:22 IST

Two demonstrators were shot dead and angry mobs attacked Western fast food outlets on Tuesday as Pakistan suffered its most violent protests yet against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

The demonstrators were killed by a security guard as they tried to attack a bank in the eastern city of Lahore, where around 15,000 furious Muslims went on a fiery rampage against McDonald's and Pizza Hut restaurants.

Police earlier fired tear gas and used water cannon to disperse hundreds of students who stormed into a high security diplomatic enclave in the capital Islamabad and headed for the British, French and Indian embassies.

Small scale protests against the cartoons have been held almost daily in Pakistan since the furore over the Danish cartoons erupted late this month, but the demonstrations have turned more angry in the past few days.

"The gunman of the Metropolitan bank opened fire and two people died. It is a serious development. We are grieved over the loss of precious life," Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao told private GEO television.

Police in Lahore confirmed the deaths, with city police chief Omar Bhatti telling AFP several others were "wounded in stone throwing".

Clouds of tear gas and smoke hung over the historic but sprawling city of seven million late on Tuesday as rioters burned dozens of cars, motorbikes, tyres and some buildings.

Paramilitary troops were sent in to restore order but several separate demonstrations were continuing and protesters were running wild past still-flaming vehicles, witnesses said.

The stick-wielding protesters attacked and damaged two McDonald's restaurants and a Pizza Hut, before pelting the Holiday Inn hotel and some government buildings with stones.

"One McDonald outlet was completely smashed," police chief Bhatti said.

Police fired tear gas shells to disperse a crowd that tried to storm the Punjab provincial assembly building, while a small blaze caused by a firecracker broke out at the building, witnesses said.

In Islamabad around 600 school and college students, most of them wearing school uniforms, peeled off from a larger crowd of around 3,000 protesters and entered the city's supposedly secure diplomatic compound.

They threw stones at the Indian mission and smashed windows and hoardings outside a branch of Standard Chartered bank before police expelled them from the barricaded and fenced-off area, witnesses said.

Police used teargas while fire trucks with water cannon mounted on their roofs also hosed down the protesters. Police wielding batons could be seen dragging some people away.

Staff at nearby embassies were advised to stay inside until the demonstration ended.

"A small group of demonstrators got inside the diplomatic enclave but they were soon dispersed. At no stage was there any danger to our staff or property," a British High Commission spokesman said.

Before entering the enclave the protesters ripped down and trampled on giant portraits of President Pervez Musharraf and visiting Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

Hours later around 5,000 traders demonstrating against the cartoons massed outside the parliament building in Islamabad, which is on the same road as the diplomatic zone.

They burned effigies of US President George W Bush and Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen and then dispersed peacefully.

Some 200 Pakistani legislators also held a five-minute silent protest outside the enclave.

Meanwhile, in the conservative northwestern city of Peshawar, around 1,500 people gathered at several separate rallies on Tuesday and police tear gassed around 200 students who burned tyres to block the main road out of the city.

Pakistan's hardline Islamic parties have called for a nationwide strike over the issue on March 3.

First Published: Feb 14, 2006 19:22 IST