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Thousands of tribesmen and armed militants rallied Tuesday against the US and Pakistani governments over a missile attack on a suspected al-Qaida training camp that killed 80 people.
About 10,000 people protested in Khar, the main town in the northwestern tribal Bajur district and 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Chingai village, where Pakistan's military said its helicopters on Monday fired five missiles into a religious school, known as a madrassa.
As loud speakers blared songs in the local-ethnic Pashto language urging people to wage holy war, or jihad, protesters gathered in a large field to denounce what they described as an attack that killed innocent students and teachers.
"We will continue our jihad. We will take revenge for the blood of our martyrs," local Islamic cleric, Maulana Roohul Amin, yelled into a loud speaker at the rally. "The forces of infidelity are trying to erase us from existence."
The crowd chanted: "God is Great," "Death to Bush! Death to Musharraf!" and "Anyone who is a friend of America is a traitor."
Islamic leaders called for nationwide protests Tuesday to condemn the air raid - the deadliest-ever military operation launched against suspected militants.
The attack Monday threatens efforts by Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to persuade deeply conservative tribespeople to back his government over pro-Taliban and al-Qaida fighters, who enjoy strong support in many semiautonomous regions in northern Pakistan.
Pakistan said its helicopters fired five missiles into the madrassa - allegedly a front for a terrorist training camp - killing 80 people inside. The explosions flattened the building. Three men survived with serious injuries.
The attack could fan unrest in Pakistan, which witnessed violent protests this year after European newspapers published cartoons of Islam's Prophet Muhammad, as well as the August killing of an ethnic-Baluch tribal chief in another military raid.
Scores of pro-government tribal police deployed throughout Bajur and blocked roads with stones to prevent political activists and journalists reaching Khar and Chingai, a local government official said.
Many local lawmakers and regional Cabinet ministers resigned in protest over the attack.
"Islamabad is acting against its own citizens who profess loyalty, promise to maintain peace and to ... eliminate foreign militants," a Pakistan daily, The Nation, said in an editorial.
Ali Dayan Hasan, a South Asia representative for Human Rights Watch, accused Pakistani authorities of "persistent use of excessive and disproportionate force ... in pursuing counter-terror operations."
The planned signing of a peace deal between tribal leaders and the military was canceled Monday in response to the airstrike.
The attack sparked claims of US collusion with Pakistan in targeting and destroying the madrassa. Villagers reportedly said fixed-wing drone aircraft were seen flying over the town in the days before the attack, according to the Dawn daily newspaper.
Pakistani and US military officials denied American involvement in the attack, which occurred 3 kilometers (about 2 miles) from the Afghan border, saying it was purely a Pakistani operation.
In January, a US Predator drone fired a missile targeting al-Qaida No. 2 Ayman-Al-Zawahri in Damadola, near Chingai. The strike missed al-Zawahri, but killed several other al-Qaida members and civilians and sparked massive anti-U.S. protests across Pakistan.
Among those killed Monday was Liaquat Hussain, a fugitive cleric and al-Zawahri associate who ran the targeted madrassa. The raid was launched after Hussain rejected government warnings to stop using it terrorist training camp, the military said.
Another al-Zawahri lieutenant, Faqir Mohammed, left the madrassa 30 minutes before the strike, according to a Bajur intelligence official.
Pakistan's most influential Islamist political leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, will lead a convoy of cars from the northwestern city of Peshawar to Khar and Chingai, his spokesman, Shahid Shamsi, said.
"They killed 80 teenagers who were students of the Quran," Ahmed told reporters on Monday. "This is a very cruel joint-activity (between the U.S. and Musharraf governments)."
Small protests were held in several Pakistani cities, including Peshawar, Karachi and Multan on Monday. The unrest caused Britain's Prince Charles, currently in Pakistan, to cancel his planned Tuesday trip to Peshawar.