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Pakistani tribesmen vow revenge for airstrike

KHAR, Pakistan -- Thousands of Pakistani tribesmen protested yesterday, vowing vengeance for an army airstrike on an Al Qaeda-linked religious school that killed about 80 suspected militants four days earlier.

Effigies of President Bush and Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, were paraded on mules through Khar, the main town in the Bajaur tribal region bordering Afghanistan, beaten with sticks and shoes, and then burnt.

Several thousand tribesmen gathered in Khar, 6 miles from the destroyed madrasa, called Zia-ul-Koran, or Light of the Koran, in the village of Chenagai. The pro-Taliban cleric who ran it was killed in the raid.

"The people of the tribal areas are being treated like terrorists and innocent people are being killed by the US and Pakistan army. We will not tolerate this anymore," Waheed Gul, a local leader of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islaami party, told protesters.

"We will certainly take revenge on these people," said another speaker, Zahir Shah.

At Nawagai, another town in Bajaur, tribesmen pelted government buildings with stones and burned tribal police checkposts.

Along with North and South Waziristan, Bajaur is regarded as a hotbed of support for Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Islamist leaders and tribesmen say the airstrike was carried out by a US Predator drone aircraft, an allegation that Pakistan and the United States have denied.

A CIA-operated drone aircraft carried out an attack last January in Bajaur that killed about 18 people, possibly including some Al Qaeda operatives.

But the main target of the attack, Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al Zawahri, was not there.

Zawahri had visited the madrasa at Chenagai in the past, but not recently, and no senior militant figures were killed in the airstrike, Pakistani security officials said.

Musharraf said all those killed in the latest airstrike were militants, and the military released video footage shot from a surveillance aircraft showing rows of men doing physical exercises at the madrasa an hour before the attack.

Protesters said the dead, mostly young men aged 15 to 25, were students, although Pakistani security sources say they were being trained as suicide bombers to attack NATO, US, and Afghan forces across the border.

Protests against the raid took place in many towns of North West Frontier Province and Baluchistan, which adjoin Afghanistan. But Islamist parties failed to muster large-scale support outside the immediate border areas.

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