Pakistan's prime minister called a female scientist convicted of trying to kill U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan "the daughter of the nation" on Friday and vowed to campaign for her release from a New York jail.
Police fired tear gas to disburse rock-throwing protesters trying to march on the U.S. Embassy in the country's largest city Karachi, one of several demonstrations against the 86-year sentence handed down to Aafia Siddiqui by a New York court on Thursday.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani's comments appeared to be an attempt to manage public anger over the case of the American-trained scientist and mother, which has struck a chord among Islamist groups and ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom are convinced of her innocence.
Gilani said he had lobbied U.S. officials for Siddiqui's release to "improve the U.S. image in Pakistan."
"We all are united, and we want the daughter of the nation to come back to Pakistan," he told parliament, which unanimously adopted a resolution demanding Siddiqui's repatriation.
"I fought for her, my lawyer fought for her and now I will take up this matter on a political level," he said.
Most of the protesters were from Islamists political parties opposed to the government. They criticized the country's leaders for failing to secure her freedom, aware or otherwise that Pakistani officials have no say in what goes on in an American court.
One of the largest protests was in the northwestern city of Peshawar, where around 8,000 people gathered.
In Islamabad, 100 people attempting to reach the U.S. Embassy scuffled with police near a five-star hotel, witnesses said.
"Down with America! Jihad, Jihad!" the protesters shouted.
In Karachi, where Siddiqui's family lives, around 400 people briefly battled with police officers who fired off several rounds of tear gas, said police Chief Javed Akbr. There were no reports of any injuries.
Siddiqui, 38, was detained in Afghanistan in 2008. She was found guilty of seizing a weapon from one of her captors and trying to shoot U.S. authorities who were interrogating her there.
Many Pakistanis believe claims by Siddiqui's supporters that the U.S. abducted her long before that and kept her in a secret prison for years as it pursued its fight against global terrorism. U.S. officials deny those claims, though they had listed Siddiqui as a suspect wanted for alleged links to al-Qaida before her arrest.