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Solidarity rallies back Musharraf

The rallies were intended to bolster support for the government over its backing of the United States.  

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Thousands of people have attended government-sponsored rallies across Pakistan called to show support for President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's backing of the U.S. war on terrorism.

The rallies -- part of what has been billed as a nationwide 'solidarity day' -- follow Wednesday's conclusion of talks between American and Pakistani officials on possible U.S. military action against Afghanistan for harboring Islamic militant Osama bin Laden.

Groups representing what Musharraf calls the "silent majority" were invited to take part in marches, rallies and seminars to mark the day. Many were school and college students who waved hundreds of green and white Pakistani flags.

CNN's Tom Mintier has more on the Pakistanis' reaction to a government decision to align itself with the United States in the terrorism fight (September 27)

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Government workers were encouraged by the authorities to join the rallies as part of efforts to counter demonstrations by several hardline Islamic groups who oppose cooperation with the United States.

"We are all gathered here to tell the world that we support our president because whatever decision he has taken has been taken for the betterment of Pakistan I am sure," one woman at a rally in the city of Islamabad told CNN.

Others voiced their anger that the attacks in the U.S. had been associated with Islam.

"A true Muslim can never ever do such a crime because Islam forbids terrorism," said one man.

'Grave crisis'

Addressing the crowd in Islamabad, Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said the government's strategy was in the best interests of the people in Afghanistan.

"We are in touch with the Taliban. We talked with them yesterday and today. We urged them to listen to the Islamic world and the United Nations," he said.

"Today, our priority should be unity because the country faces a grave crisis We are with the rest of the Islamic world and the international community in the fight against terrorism."

There have been no reports of any violence at any of the rallies.

On Wednesday a pro-government meeting in Karachi was attacked by pro-Taliban supporters threw a grenade into the crowd and opened fire on hundreds of people.

At least a dozen people were hurt, according to police.

U.S. talks

bin Laden demo
The Solidarity Day was designed to counter protests by supporters of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban  

In talks between the United States and Pakistan, a spokesman for Musharraf said both sides have settled on the outlines of an agreement, but added that details still need to be worked out.

Negotiations ran for about week between the U.S. delegation and Pakistani officials.

It is expected that additional U.S. State Department and Pentagon delegations will come to Islamabad in the coming days.

Shortly after the terror attacks on Washington and New York, Musharraf announced that Pakistan was giving the U.S. "our unstinted cooperation in the fight against terrorism".

Sources familiar with the discussions said the Musharraf government is willing to let the United States use its airspace and provide intelligence information, but will not allow U.S. troops on Pakistani soil, except as a last resort.

Pakistan's foreign ministry has also said that it will not partake in any military action against Afghanistan.

'High price'

Pakistan has found itself in an awkward position as it tries to cope with the political, military and humanitarian crisis building in the region.

On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sattar warned that the outside world should not try to forcibly impose a proxy government on Afghanistan in place of the ruling Taliban.

Drawing on history, Sattar said it was "very important for the world at large to understand Afghanistan." In the past, he said, "those who intervened in Afghanistan and tried to plot their own preferred leaders on Afghanistan paid a very high price for that blunder."

Referring to the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, he warned against outside forces responding favorably to requests from Afghan groups for military assistance.

"We fear that any such decision on the part of foreign powers to give assistance to one side or the other in Afghanistan is a recipe for great suffering for the people of Afghanistan," he said.

The Alliance, which controls only about 5 percent of Afghanistan's territory but remains the U.N.-recognized government, has offered its services to the United States in the event it launches strikes on Afghanistan.

Washington has warned the Taliban they will face military action unless they hand over exiled Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden, the chief suspect in the attacks on New York and Washington.


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