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Pakistan denies U.S. claim it has rights of hot pursuit
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Pakistan insisted Saturday that it never gave the United States permission to chase Taliban and al-Qaida fighters from Afghanistan into Pakistan, the latest fallout from a week-old border incident that is still touching raw nerves.
"Absolutely not. The Americans cannot cross the Pakistani border from Afghanistan to chase what they say are vestiges of Taliban and al-Qaida," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told The Associated Press on Saturday.
The claim directly contradicts American assertions that U.S. troops could cross the border if they were in hot pursuit of suspects.
U.S. military spokesman Maj. Stephen Clutter said Friday that American forces "reserve the right to go after them and pursue them." He said that notion was "something that Pakistan is aware of," though he said U.S. forces hadn't gone into Pakistani territory.
The "hot pursuit" issue came dramatically to the fore after an American soldier was shot by a rogue Pakistani border guard along the Afghan-Pakistani border Dec. 29. The soldier survived the head wound and was treated at a U.S. military hospital in Germany.
Islamic groups angered
The Americans, who say the entire incident took place in Afghanistan, called for air support and a warplane bombed a building the attacker ran into for cover.
Pakistan's government said it was still investigating if at least one of the U.S. bombs landed just inside Pakistan, as some witnesses reported.
Publicly, both Washington and Pakistan said the clash wouldn't damage their relations. But it further angered influential Islamic groups, who staged scattered rallies across Pakistan on Friday to denounce the United States for invading Afghanistan and threatening to do the same in Iraq.
On Saturday, a key leader of the main opposition group in Pakistan's Parliament, Qazi Hussain Ahmad, said he was certain an American bomb hit his country -- but that the government was too afraid to admit it for fear arousing more outrage.
As early as March 2002, U.S. commanders said their troops might enter Pakistan, but only as a last resort and with Pakistan's approval.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri also weighed in on the dispute Saturday.
"From the very first day, it has been absolutely clear and fully understood ... that operations within Pakistani territory would be conducted solely and exclusively by our own forces and in response to decisions taken by Pakistan," he said in a written statement.
But officials emphasized that Pakistan had no intention of ending its backing for U.S.-led forces mopping up remnants of Afghanistan's former rulers -- something conservative Islamic leaders have demanded for more than a year.
Since President Gen. Pervez Musharraf allied Pakistan with the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, Pakistani security agencies have worked closely with the FBI to arrest more than 422 suspected Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents in Pakistan.
"We want to continue this cooperation," Ahmed said.