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Imran Khan's Drone Protest Halted By Pakistan
Pakistani authorities have stopped a protest over US drone strikes led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan from entering the troubled region of South Waziristan.
Mr Khan, who blames the Pakistan government for allowing the US to operate in the country, had planned to lead the protest from the capital Islamabad into the tribal area frequently hit by the drone strikes.
But authorities blocked their path with shipping containers on the highway.
The group was turned back just miles from the border of South Waziristan.
After an hour of fruitless negotiations, Mr Khan announced that the caravan would backtrack to the city of Tank, about 15 kilometres (nine miles) away. There, he delivered a speech to the crowd of about 10,000.
"The drones are inhumane," Mr Khan said, donning a white turban as he stood on a vehicle, surrounded by thousands of protesters.
"We want to give a message to America that the more you carry out drone attacks, the more people will hate you."
The anti-American sentiment, always high in Pakistan, was evident in the crowd that waved banners saying "Down with America," and "The friend of America is the traitor of the nation."
Regardless of whether he was able to enter the tribal region, Mr Khan portrayed the two-day motorcade, which started in Islamabad, as a success.
"We have taken the voice of the people of Waziristan to the world," he said.
The country's military and the civilian government publicly complain that the drone strikes - aimed at remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban - infringe the country's sovereignty and cause civilian casualties.
Yet the government has taken little concrete action against the strikes.
The United States says the strikes have killed top Taliban and al Qaeda commanders and civilian casualties are minimal.
But it refuses to say how targets are selected or how the military determines whether the dead were fighters or civilians.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which tracks drone strikes, said between 1,232-1,366 people had been killed since the strikes began in 2004. Between 474-884 were believed to be civilians, it said.
Getting accurate data on casualties and the effects of drones is extremely difficult since the government allows few foreigners into the tribal areas and the Taliban often seal off the sites of strikes.
Some Pakistanis, however, questioned why the marchers were not talking about atrocities by the Taliban or the Pakistani army, both of which have killed far more people than the drone strikes.
Meanwhile, critics denounced the rally as a piece of cheap theatre designed to drum up votes for Mr Khan's political party ahead of next year's elections.
The main faction of the Pakistani Taliban, which is based in South Waziristan, issued a statement on Friday calling Mr Khan 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 programme 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.