Thousands rally over shot teenager

Tens of thousands of people have rallied in Pakistan's largest city in support of a 14-year-old girl who was shot and critically wounded by the Taliban for promoting girls' education and criticising the militant group.

The demonstration in the southern city of Karachi was by far the largest since Malala Yousufzai and two of her classmates were shot on October 9 while returning home from school in Pakistan's northwest.

The attack horrified people inside and outside Pakistan and sparked hope among some that it would prompt the government to intensify its fight against the Taliban and their allies.

But protests against the shooting have been relatively small until now, usually attracting no more than a few hundred people. That response pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of people who held violent protests in Pakistan last month against a film produced in the United States that denigrated Islam's Prophet Mohammed.

Demonstrations in support of Yousufzai - and against rampant militant violence in the country in general - have also been fairly small compared with those focused on issues such as US drone attacks and the Nato supply route to Afghanistan that runs through Pakistan.

One of the exceptions is the political party that organised Sunday's rally in Karachi, the Muttahida Quami Movement. The party's chief, Altaf Hussain, criticised both Islamic and other mainstream political parties for failing to organise rallies to protest the attack against Yousufzai.

"Malala Yousufzai is a beacon of knowledge. She is the daughter of the nation," Hussain told the audience by telephone from London, where he is in self-imposed exile because of legal cases pending against him in Pakistan. His party is the strongest in Karachi.

Many of the demonstrators carried the young girl's picture and banners praising her bravery and expressing solidarity.

Yousufzai earned the enmity of the Taliban for publicising their behaviour when they took over the northwestern Swat Valley, where she lived, and for speaking about the importance of education for girls.

The Pakistani Taliban said they carried out the shooting because Yousufzai was promoting "Western thinking". Police have arrested at least three suspects in connection with the attack, but the two gunmen who carried out the shooting remain at large.