Massive Protests Continue in Pakistan Over Prophet Cartoons

Tens of thousands of protesters held massive demonstrations and sparked riots in the Pakistani city of Peshawar Wednesday, attacking Western businesses and other buildings. Police squared off against violent protesters across the country as anger at controversial cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad continues to rise. At least three people are reported to have died in the latest protests. Pakistani leaders have again sharply condemned the European drawings.

Bullets, smoke and tear gas filled the air over Peshawar Wednesday.

Witnesses say at least one young boy was shot and killed as thousands of protesters clashed with police.

Outraged crowds chanted anti-western slogans and burned Danish flags to protest the editorial drawings first published in Denmark more than five months ago.

The demonstrations are turning more overtly political with local religious parties increasingly targeting the United States and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the war on terror.

Roving groups in Peshawar, capital of the conservative Northwest Frontier Province, set fire to several movie theaters and businesses based in Western countries, including a KFC fried chicken restaurant.

Wednesday's protests are by far the biggest yet in Pakistan over the drawings.

Local authorities in Pakistan are downplaying the violence, blaming the extreme reaction on a small minority of the population.

Akram Durrani, the Northwest Frontier Province chief minister, says he has no intention of calling in the military to help control the situation.

Schools and universities in the city have been closed as local police struggle to impose order.

Similar protests erupted in eastern Pakistan.

In Lahore, witnesses say at least one man was killed when more than a 1,000 people battled police outside Punjab University.

A massive demonstration in Lahore Tuesday left two people dead.

For weeks, Muslims around the world have been protesting to express anger at the cartoons, which were printed in a Danish newspaper last year. Most Muslims find any depiction of the Prophet Muhammad to be offensive.

Wednesday evening Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf sharply condemned the drawings.

"Whether it is an extremist or a terrorist or a moderate Muslim, all of us are one on this issue of condemning this blasphemous act," he said.

The president addressed the issue following discussions with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, who is in Pakistan for a three-day state visit.

The two leaders also reviewed ways to improve cooperation on the war on terrorism and strengthen security along their shared border.

In recent days Afghan leaders have accused Pakistan of not doing enough to stop cross-border attacks by Taleban rebels.