Thousands in Pak chanting anti-America slogans

Thousands in Pak chanting anti-America slogans Islamabad: Chanting anti-America slogans, thousands of supporters of hardline groups, including those banned, staged a rally in the heart of Pakistan's capital here though several leaders, including LeT founder Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, stayed away due to restrictions imposed by authorities.

Groups like the Jamaat-ud-Dawah and Sipah-e-Sahaba joined the protest held at Aabpara, a commercial district located a short distance from the headquarters of the ISI.

The anti-America protest was organised by the Defa-e-Pakistan Council, (DPC) a grouping over 40 extremist and hardline groups put together by Saeed last year.

The protestors shouted slogans like "Death to America", while banners put up at the venue of the rally read "Go America Go", "No to NATO".

Some banners warned the government not to go ahead with a move to give India the Most Favoured Nation-status while speakers called for jihad or holy war.

After the local administration banned Saeed and Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat leaders Maulana Mohammad Ahmed Ludhianvi and Maulana Khalid Dhillon from entering Islamabad, they decided to stay away from the rally though they sneaked into Rawalpindi yesterday.

JuD spokesman Yahya Mujahid told reporters that Saeed did not come to Islamabad to avoid a "confrontation with the government".

Police officials and witnesses estimated that over 3,000 people attended the rally. The venue was guarded by scores of riot police.

Maulana Samiul Haq, a key leader of the DPC who is considered to be close to the Taliban, said: "Today, we have gathered to raise a voice of protest against US intervention in Pakistan".

Jamaat-e-Islami chief Munawar Hassan blamed all of Pakistan's problems on its participation in the campaign against terrorism, which he described as "America's war".

He said, "The US wants to create anarchy in our country... It wants to create fears about our nuclear programme falling into the hands of extremists and then take it over".

Former ISI chief Hamid Gul too attended the rally, the latest show of strength by the DPC.

"For 10 years our rulers, as allies of the US, spilled the blood of our people. We insisted in the past and say it again now - this is not our war," Gul said.

The DPC has organised a series of rallies across Pakistan at which it has targeted the US and India.

Leaders like Saeed have called on Pakistan to pull out of the war on terror and pledged to oppose all moves to normalise trade relations with India.

Hafiz Saeed, who heads the JuD that has been declared a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba by the UN Security Council, was briefly detained after the 2008 Mumbai attacks.