Pakistan detains Islamist leader amid protests

Lahore, Pakistan - Pakistani authorities detained the head of the country's main Islamist opposition alliance on Friday for the second time in a week to prevent him from leading protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.

Demonstrations against the cartoons were held in several cities and towns across Pakistan following a call from Qazi Hussain Ahmed's six-party Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) alliance.

But the number of participants was small by Pakistani standards and there were no reports of the type of violence seen last week, in which five people died.

Ahmed was detained in the eastern city of Lahore after police blocked roads leading to Mansoora, a complex housing the headquarters of his Jamaat-e-Islami party.

"He cannot go out of his party office," said Taimur Azmat Usman, a spokesman for the provincial government.

Last Sunday, Ahmed was confined to his house in Lahore to stop him leading a protest in the capital, Islamabad.

MMA officials said around 50 activists had been detained in overnight raids in Lahore, the capital Islamabad and its adjoining city, Rawalpindi. Police put the number detained at about a dozen.

Cartoons first published in a Danish newspaper and reprinted in other European papers have sparked protests worldwide by Muslims who believe it is blasphemous to depict the Prophet.

Those in Pakistan have increasingly targeted President Pervez Musharraf's military-led government for its alliance with the West.

The Punjab government banned public rallies after two people died in violent protests in Lahore last week. Three more people died in protests in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The MMA called for protests in all towns and cities in Pakistan on Friday.

In the largest protest, up to five thousand people chanting anti-American and anti-Danish slogans rallied in the Bajaur tribal region near the Afghan border.

Anti-American sentiment has been running high in Bajaur since a U.S. airstrike last month aimed at al Qaeda number two, Ayman al-Zawahri, which killed 18 civilians. Zawahri escaped the attack but five al Qaeda figures were killed, officials said.

Speaking to up to 500 demonstrators in Islamabad, Fazal-ur-Rehman, the secretary-general of the MMA, said the European countries where the cartoons were published should tender an apology for hurting the feelings of Muslims.

"Our movement will continue until Europe tenders an apology and gives assurance that such acts will not be repeated," the cleric said.

Around 1,500 people gathered in the central city of Multan, where some burned a Danish flag. Another 1,200 people took part in a protest in Peshawar while small protests were held in Karachi and other cities.

Minority Shi'ite Muslims held separate rallies in several cities to denounce Wednesday's devastating bombing of one of the their holiest shrines in the Iraqi city of Samarra by suspected al Qaeda militants.

While protests against the cartoons have subsided in Pakistan in recent days, the MMA has given a call for a countrywide strike on March 3, just ahead of a expected visit to Islamabad by U.S. President George W. Bush.