Islamabad/Lahore: Thousands of students, members of political parties and radical groups like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) today staged protests in cities across Pakistan against the release of suspected Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) contractor Raymond Davis.
The largest protest took place in Lahore, where about 3,000 people gathered for a rally organised jointly by the JuD, Jamaat-e-Islami and cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan's Tehrik-e-Insaf party.
Protests were also organised in Peshawar, Karachi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
However, reports said the number of people who joined the protests in most places was far lower than the turnout for rallies in support of the controversial blasphemy law earlier this year.
The protests were held after the Friday prayers and clerics in mosques across the country criticised the move to free Davis, a 36-year-old former Special Forces soldier, in their sermons.
Davis, who was arrested in Lahore on January 27 after he shot and killed two men, was pardoned and freed by a Pakistani court after over two million dollars were paid as "blood money" to the families of the dead men.
In Islamabad, about 500 supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami and Tehrik-e-Insaf marched from the radical Lal Masjid to Aabpara Chowk.
Police used batons to disperse a group of protesters who tried to head towards the nearby Diplomatic Enclave.
Imran Khan addressed the gathering and claimed that the federal and Punjab governments were involved in Davis' release.
Members of JuD, Jamaat-e-Islami, Tehrik-e-Insaf, PML-N and some students' groups gathered on Mall Road, one of the main thoroughfares of Lahore, and shouted slogans against the US, President Asif Ali Zardari and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for their perceived role in releasing Davis.
Leaders who addressed the gathering claimed that the government sold out "Pakistani blood and honour" by freeing the man who had gunned down two Pakistanis.
Jamaat-e-Islami leader Amirul Azeem claimed the US had pressurised Pakistan's rulers and army to free a "CIA spy" and the "whole nation was ashamed of this act".
In a rare public criticism of Pakistan's spy agency, Jamaat-e-Islami chief Munawar Hasan said the CIA, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the federal and Punjab governments had made a deal on Davis.
In Karachi, protests were organised outside mosques by the Jamaat-e-Islami and other religious groups.
The protest in Rawalpindi was addressed by ex-ISI chief Hamid Gul and former federal minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed.
Earlier, small protests erupted in some Pakistani cities on Wednesday, hours after Davis was flown out of Pakistan on a special US flight.