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Police fire on Pakistan protesters

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Three people died in southwestern Pakistan Friday as police clashed with demonstrators protesting President Pervez Musharraf's support of the U.S.-led bombing campaign in Afghanistan.

The violence came on a day when the Afghan Defense Council, a coalition of Islamic fundamentalist parties, called for work stoppages and road blockades to protest the ongoing military operation.

The deadly confrontation between police and demonstrators, confirmed to CNN by Pakistan's Interior Ministry, happened along the main highway between Sindh and Punjab provinces, near Oubaro in the Ghotki district.

Police baton-charged and lobbed teargas at about 4,000 protesters before opening fire, doctors and officials said.

The Pakistani government has cracked down on more than a month of protests with a massive show of security. CNN's John Vause reports (November 9)

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Dr Khalil ur Rehman Lund at the Rural Health Centre in Shadan Lund said three people died of bullet wounds and four were wounded.

"The people have dispersed but there is still tension in the area as people are very angry," Lund said.

Scattered violence was also reported in Karachi where police fired tear gas to break up a crowd of demonstrators.

In northern city of Peshawar, demonstrators threw stones at police, who responded with tear gas. Only one person was reported injured.

Despite the scattered violence, most of Pakistan was calm following Friday prayers, sometimes a catalyst for calls to protest or strike.

Call for general strike

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Pakistan's Islamic parties have vowed to bring the country to a halt in a pro-Taliban show of force on Friday, despite a government crackdown against their leaders, two of whom were detained this week.

The shutdown of bazaars and transport called by the 35-party Afghanistan Defence Council is in protest against the Pakistani government's support of the U.S. raids targeting the Taliban and their guest Osama bin Laden, prime suspect in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was due to arrive in the United States on Friday after a visit to Europe.

Pakistani air space is the main route for U.S. bombing raids, but most Pakistanis oppose the bombing, and Musharraf has urged a pause in the attacks during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which starts next week.

"We want Pervez Musharraf to tell Bush that he must stop the bombing, the killing of civilians," said Aslam Farooqi, secretary general of the Sunni militant Sipah-e-Sahabah group in Peshawar.

In the capital, Islamabad, almost all markets were shut.

Musharraf is scheduled to meet President Bush in New York
Musharraf is scheduled to meet President Bush in New York  

In the neighbouring city of Rawalpindi, several small groups of stone-throwing youths played cat-and-mouse with riot police. The protesters burned tyres before being chased away.

The streets of the southwestern city of Quetta near the Afghan border were deserted, in contrast to the usual traffic chaos. Most vehicles on the road were pick-ups laden with armed police and militia, witnesses said.

Musharraf is walking a political tightrope by supporting Washington against the Taliban. Islamic groups accuse the United States of using bin Laden as an excuse to attack Muslims.


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