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US drone strike hits Pakistan rocked by protests

A US drone strike in northwestern Pakistan has killed at least three people, according to security officials. The airstrike comes after some 15 people perished in violent nationwide protests against an anti-Islam film.

The US drone fired two missiles at a moving vehicle in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan on Saturday, killing at least three people, according to Pakistani security officials.

North Waziristan is one of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, which stretch along the frontier with Afghanistan and enjoy of a measure of autonomy from the Pakistani central government in Islamabad. Washington considers the tribal areas a hotbed for Islamist militant activist.

The identities and nationalities of those killed in Saturday's drone strike are still unknown.

Tense US-Pakistani relations

The Obama administration has ratcheted up its drone campaign in Pakistan since May 2012, despite protests from Islamabad that the strikes violate the country's sovereignty and fan anti-American sentiment.

Pakistan and the US have been struggling to repair ties damaged by Washington's unilateral assassination of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011 and a US friendly fire incident that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers the following November.

Pakistani protesters shout anti-U.S. slogans at a rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on Friday, Sept. 21, 2012. Pakistan has blocked cell phone service in major cities to prevent militants from using phones to detonate bombs during a national day of protest against an anti-Islam film produced in the United States. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

Deadly protests against the anti-Islam film broke out across Pakistan on Friday

US officials have publicly accused Pakistan's intelligence service - the ISI - of supporting Islamist militant groups such as the Haqqani network, which has been accused of launching deadly attacks against US and coalition forces in neighboring Afghanistan.

'Day of love for the Prophet'

On Friday, tens of thousands took to the streets of Pakistan in nationwide protests against an anti-Islam film made in the US state of California by fundamentalist Christians.

Called the Innocence of Muslims, the low-budget film depicts the Prophet Muhammad as a violent womanizer. In Islam, it is forbidden to make images depicting the Prophet.

The Pakistani government had declared Friday, when the Muslim weekly prayer is held, a "day of love for the Prophet." Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf called for the protests to remain peaceful.

"It is our collective responsibility to protest peacefully without causing harm or damage to life or property," the prime minister said.

Protests turn violent

But the protests took an ugly turn, with at least 10 people killed during unrest in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city. Police fired gunshots and tear gas against the demonstrators, as arsonists attacked cinemas, banks, shops and restaurants. At least one police officer died in the violence in Karachi, located in Pakistan's south.

And at least five people were killed in the northwestern city of Peshawar, including a driver for a TV channel, who was reportedly shot dead by police. Some 229 people were wounded in protests in Karachi, Peshawar and Islamabad.

slk/mz (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)