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Pakistan Army blocks anti-drone protest in tribal region

The Pakistani military blocked a convoy of Pakistanis and a small contingent of US anti-war activists from entering South Waziristan on Sunday to protest American drone strikes.

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Video on Pakistani media showed barricades with hundreds of police in riot gear, a sign of concerns that the motorcade would be attacked or become unruly.

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Around three dozen Americans from the US-based anti-war group CODEPINK joined Khan for the march. The American protesters say the US drone strikes, contrary to the claims of American officials, have terrorized peaceful tribes living along the border and killed many innocent civilians — not just Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.

The convoy aimed to throw a spotlight on the drone attacks, which many Pakistanis oppose as violations of the country's sovereignty that often kill civilians. The US says its drone strikes are necessary to battle militants that Pakistan has been unable or unwilling to control.

Critics denounced the rally as a piece of cheap theater designed to drum up votes for Khan's political party ahead of next year's elections.

"A made-for-TV dog and pony show that will be high on drama and low on substance will resonate with Khan'sbase," wrote Pakistani newspaper columnist Cyril Almeida in the English-language newspaper Dawn Sunday.

The rally was originally intended for South Waziristan, a tribal region where the Pakistani military has been battling a violent uprising by the Taliban, and factions of the Taliban threatened to attack the march. On Saturday, a statement from a Taliban faction said to be based in eastern Punjab province warned that militants would target the protesters with suicide bombings.

The main faction of the Pakistani Taliban, which is based in South Waziristan, issued a statement Friday callingKhan a "slave of the West" and saying that the militants "don't need any sympathy" from such "a secular and liberal person."

The former cricket star long had a reputation as a playboy, but in recent years he has said he has grown stronger in his Muslim faith. He also has used attacks on the US drone program as a means of gaining attention and esteem in Pakistan. His popularity surged in recent years in Pakistan, where the government, led by the Pakistan People's Party of Asif Ali Zardari, has disappointed many.

In the capital of Islamabad, the US Embassy warned its citizens about possible terrorist attacks Sunday in the city on key government installations and major hotels such as the Marriott and the Serena. The embassy said Pakistan's Interior Ministry had issued an alert about the threats, and urged American citizens to avoid these areas.

The US government already advises its citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Pakistan, citing the threat of militant groups as well as protests such as the violent ones that shook the country earlier this month against an anti-Islam film made in the US.

The film has outraged Muslims around the world for its vulgar portrayal of Islam's prophet, Muhammad, and protests in Pakistan have been especially intense. About 2,000 supporters of the hardline Jamaat-e-Islami party rallied in the southern port city of Karachi Sunday against the film.

* Associated Press writers Zarar Khan and Rebecca Santana in Islamabad and Adil Jawad in Karachi contributed to this report.

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