Pak tribesmen rally against US drone attacks

Islamabad: A large number of tribesmen on Sunday rallied in Pakistan`s volatile North Waziristan tribal region demanding an immediate halt to the US drone strikes, the second such protest in the region in three days.

Today`s rally in Mir Ali, a key town in the region, coincided with two drone strikes in Datta Khel area of North Waziristan that killed seven people.

Over 2,000 tribesmen had joined a rally in Miranshah, the headquarters of North Waziristan tribal agency, on Friday.

The first drone strike today targeted a vehicle carrying suspected militants at Doga Madakhel village, killing four persons. Three more persons were killed in the second strike that targeted a motorcycle, local media reported.

Local residents said tribesmen in Mir Ali closed all markets and transport stayed off the roads to protest against the drone strikes.

The tribesmen marched through the town and shouted anti-US slogans as they demanded an immediate halt to the attacks by unmanned spy planes.

Speakers, including clerics, tribal elders, traders and students leaders, condemned the drone strikes, claiming that innocent people were being killed.

Abdul Hakim, chief of the Traders Action Committee of Mir Ali Bazar, told the rally that the drone strikes have made people "physiologically sick as everyone is in a state of fear when drones are seen flying over the area."

Students Council leader Abul Rauf said people could not go to mosques and funerals due to the fear of drone strikes as "the Americans do not spare public places."

Other speakers lashed out at the Pakistan government for its perceived weaknesses and failure to adopt a firm stand on the issue.

The US has significantly stepped up drone strikes in the region since last year. American officials say the region is a launching pad for cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.

However, tribesmen claim that innocent people are being targeted by US drones.

The US considers North Waziristan a safe haven for Taliban and al-Qaeda elements, including commanders Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Mulla Nazir, who are fighting US and NATO in Afghanistan.

The Haqqani network, which is also fighting US forces in Afghanistan, is based in the region, US officials say. The network is run by Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of commander Jalaluddin Haqqani.

Several high-profile militant leaders, including Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud, have been killed in drone attacks in the tribal belt.

Pakistan publicly criticises US drone attacks as a violation of its sovereignty though analysts believe the two countries have a tacit understanding on the issue and share intelligence for the strikes.