Pakistan’s Islamist opposition planned rallies across the Muslim country Friday against Britain's award of a knighthood to novelist Salman Rushdie, as a provincial minister handed back medals given to his grandfather by the British to protest honoring the Indian writer.
"We will hold protests all over Pakistan after Friday prayers to protest the award of a knighthood to Salman Rushdie," said Liaquat Baloch, parliamentary leader of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, Pakistan's main alliance of Islamist parties.
"Rushdie hurt the feelings of the Islamic world by writing a blasphemous book. Awarding the knighthood is an attempt to weaken the ongoing dialogue between religions," he added.
A spokesman for the opposition alliance said major demonstrations were set to take place in the southern commercial hub of Karachi, the eastern city of Lahore and the capital Islamabad.
Punjab province, Pakistan's most populous region, lifted a ban on protests imposed amid a political crisis facing President Pervez Musharraf so that the Rushdie rallies could go ahead.
"The provincial government has relaxed the ban on gatherings of more than five people to facilitate demonstrations over the Rushdie issue," Lahore police chief Malik Iqbal told AFP.
The Rushdie knighthood has caused fury in Pakistan, with protesters in several cities this week burning effigies of the writer and of Britain's Queen Elizabeth.
Pakistani traders also offered a reward of 10 million rupees (165,000 dollars) late Thursday for anyone who beheads Rushdie, while a group of scholars awarded Osama bin Laden their highest honor in a tit-for-tat move.
“If Britain can give a knighthood to Rushdie, we too have the right to make awards to our leaders and heroes,” said Allama Tahir Ashrafi, whose group represents about 3,000 scholars in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, a provincial chief minister handed back medals given to his grandfather by the former British colonial rulers of India in protest at the honor for the author of "The Satanic Verses".
The chief minister of southern Sindh province, Arbab Ghulam Rahim, renounced titles given to his grandfather and other ancestors by the British, saying he would return medals to the British High Commission.
He said he was returning to the British High Commission a medal given to his grandfather by Britain's King George VI in 1937 and a title awarded to his uncle by the British in 1945.
"I will now return these as no Muslim can accept any title from the Queen after she honored Salman Rushdie," he said.
In another angry step, the assembly of southwestern Baluchistan province bordering Afghanistan passed a resolution demanding that Britain withdraw the Rushdie honor, the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
The resolution, similar to condemnations approved by the federal parliament earlier this week, said the affair had "hurt the hearts of Muslims the world over."
Pakistan and Britain got into a diplomatic spat after religious affairs minister Ijaz-ul Haq Monday said that the knighthood would justify suicide bombings. He later retracted the remark.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Wednesday that Britain was "sorry" if people were upset over the award of a kinghthood to Rushdie, but insisted it was given for his literary canon.
In 1989, Iran's then-spiritual leader, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa or religious edict ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie for his book, The Satanic Verses.
The threat forced Rushdie, who lives in Britain, into hiding for a decade.