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Miranshah, Pakistan (AFP) Feb 23, 2012
Hundreds of armed tribesmen on Thursday rallied against US drone attacks in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt, demanding compensation for damage and losses, witnesses said.
Markets remained closed during the rally in Miranshah, the main town of North Waziristan, the tribal district most frequently targeted by drone strikes against Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants.
Up to 2,000 tribesmen gathered in Miranshah bazaar shouting "Death to America" and "Stop drone attacks in Pakistan" at the rally organised by Pakistan's largest Islamic party, Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI), witnesses said.
"The United Nations should take notice of American drone strikes," cleric Maulana Abul Rehman told the gathering.
The crowd demanded an immediate end to drone attacks and compensation for those who lost relatives or property, as well as condemning this week's burning of Korans at a US-run base in neighbouring Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama last month confirmed for the first time that US drones target Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants on Pakistani soil, but American officials do not discuss details of the covert programme.
The US strikes are deeply unpopular among the Pakistani public, who see the attacks as a violation of sovereignty and who blame the government's US alliance for much of the violence plaguing the country.
According to an AFP tally, 45 US missile strikes were reported in Pakistan's tribal belt in 2009, the year Obama took office, 101 in 2010 and 64 in 2011.
The programme has dramatically increased as the Obama administration looks to withdraw all foreign combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
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