New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - Anti-US protests broke out in Pakistan on Friday with hundreds of followers of radical Pakistani Islamic activists clashing with police and torching an American fast food restaurant and several vehicles, media reports said.
The demonstrators clashed with police in the southern port city of Karachi, where police fired tear gas to break up the crowd. There were no immediate reports of casualties but some 20,000 police and paramilitary troops were deployed in anticipation of more serious clashes after prayers at mosques across the city.
A KFC fast-food company was damaged by fire. It was not immediately clear if anyone was injured. Outlets of KFC and McDonalds are often targeted in demonstrations in Pakistan as symbols of American culture.
The demonstrators also comandeered a city bus carrying passengers in southern part of Karachi, ordered all passengers to get off, and set the bus on fire. They also torched at least three more vehicles in other parts of the city.
Leaders of major Islamic political parties have called a nationwide strike Friday to protest US-led strikes in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan's support for the U.S. war on terrorism.
Tension continues to mount on the Pakistan side of the border with more police and border troops being deployed to check the growing tide of anti-American hostility among Afghan refugees.
Demonstrations have worsened following the announcement earlier this week that America has been given access to two Pakistani airfields from which to launch emergency or rescue operations.
While the Pakistan government assured its people that under no circumstances would Pakistan's ground facilities be used for launching any air or ground attack inside Afghanistan, the presence of US troops on its soil has heightened fury at President Musharraf.
But the government says things are under control, and President Gen. Pervez Musharraf insists most Pakistanis (the silent majority) support his decision to help the United States.
Nonetheless, his government said Friday it would deal firmly with anyone who protests violently or acts against Pakistan's national interest.
"There are only a few extremist elements who tried to disrupt law and order, but we have given instructions to the law enforcement agencies not to allow anybody to take law in their hands," Musharraf's spokesman, Maj. Gen. Rashid Quereshi, said Friday morning.
"We will ensure the protection of life and property of the people," he said in Islamabad as the Karachi protests unfolded.
Also on Friday, police and paramilitary forces were also patrolling the streets in Quetta and Peshawar, which is home to most Afghan refugees in Pakistan and is located near the Afghanistan border. Much of the unrest this week has been in or near Quetta, in Pakistan's southwest.
In Peshawar, armored personnel carriers were parked on corners and barbed wire cordoned off an ancient mosque in the old city where thousands of demonstrators gathered to denounce America. Heavily armed soldiers lined the streets and hunkered down in sandbag bunkers.