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Pakistani drone protesters block NATO supply route

Tehreek-e-Insaf party activists and cricket star Imran Khan called for a firmer stance against the US drone strikes.

A. Majeed/AFP/Getty Images

Tehreek-e-Insaf party activists and cricket star Imran Khan called for a firmer stance against the US drone strikes.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Thousands of people protesting US drone strikes blocked a road in northwest Pakistan on Saturday used to truck NATO troop supplies and equipment in and out of Afghanistan, the latest sign of rising tension caused by the attacks.

The protest, led by Pakistani politician and cricket star Imran Khan, had more symbolic value than practical effect as there is normally little NATO supply traffic on the road on Saturdays. The blocked route in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province leads to one of two border crossings used to send supplies overland from Pakistan to neighboring Afghanistan.

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Khan, whose Tehreek-e-Insaf party runs the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, called on federal officials to take a firmer stance to force the United States to end drone attacks and block NATO supplies across the country.

‘‘We will put pressure on America, and our protest will continue if drone attacks are not stopped,’’ Khan told the protesters.

The demonstrators dispersed after Khan’s speech, but his party put out a statement saying it will begin stopping trucks from carrying NATO supplies through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa indefinitely beginning Sunday night. That could spark a clash with the federal government.

The US Embassy in Islamabad declined to comment. The United States leads the coalition of NATO troops battling the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Drone strikes have been a source of friction between Islamabad and Washington.

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Khan and other officials say the attacks are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, although the country’s government is known to have supported some of the strikes in the past.

The tension has further complicated a relationship that Washington views as vital to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as negotiate peace in Afghanistan.

The protest comes two days after a rare US drone strike outside of Pakistan’s remote tribal region killed five people, including at least three Afghan militants, at an Islamic seminary in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The attack outraged Pakistani officials, as did one on Nov. 1 that killed the former leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Hakimullah Mehsud, a day before the Pakistani government said it was going to invite him to hold peace talks.

Khan pushed the Pakistani government to block NATO supplies after the strike on Mehsud, but it has shown little interest in doing so. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been a vocal critic of drone strikes, but he has also said he values the country’s relationship with the United States.

Sharif pushed President Obama to end drone strikes in a visit to Washington in October, but the United States government has shown no indication that it intends to stop.

When Khan failed to persuade the Pakistani government to block NATO supplies earlier this month, he announced that he would hold a protest to do so himself.

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