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Thousands throng around screens to watch India duel

ISLAMABAD - Millions of Pakistanis gathered on Wednesday around giant screens set up on streets and in playgrounds across the country to witness the World Cup semi-final thriller with rival India.

The government declared a half-day holiday in offices and schools to enable the cricket-mad population to enjoy a match dubbed the “clash of titans”. Special prayers were offered in mosques and at homes and people recited verses from the Kora,n praying to Allah to guide the Pakistani team to victory. Motorists listened to the commentary on their car radios and shouted out the latest score to passers-by at a busy intersection in Islamabad.

Young people were seen wearing the green T-shirts of the Pakistani squad, their faces painted in the nation’s green and white, in northwestern city of Peshawar while large national flags flew from buildings, houses and cars. In Lahore, which borders with India, 10,000 Pakistanis thronged the Gaddafi stadium to witness the match on large screens. The entry was free and people formed long queues to get in.

“We are expecting a full house. People are arriving in big numbers,” Pakistan Cricket Board spokesman Nadeem Sarwar told AFP. In the southern port city of Karachi there was a carnival atmosphere on the streets. Residents blocked many roads and set up giant screens to watch the live broadcast from the Indian town of Mohali.

Even prison authorities in Karachi made special arrangements for inmates to watch the match and gave Indian team shirts to some 200 Indian prisoners to support their team. “We have set up screens in all jails and in Malir jail where there are some 200 Indian prisoners and given them the shirts of the Indian team,” prisons chief Ghulam Qadir Thebo told AFP. In Rawalpindi revellers danced to drums in a market and shouted “Long live Pakistan team”, “We will win” and “Give your best, we are with you”.

Whenever an Indian wicket fell people jumped and danced in jubilation and fired gunshots in the air. In Islamabad people gathered around giant screens, letting out screams of excitement when a player hit a four or faced a fierce delivery. Elsewhere the streets were deserted after midday. Large crowds, including women and children, gathered at the lush green Fatima Jinnah park around large screens and waived Pakistani flags in support of their team.

Another large crowd gathered in front of the Islamabad Stock Exchange building to watch the match on a big screen mounted on the lofty building. Excitement has been at fever-pitch with shopkeepers flogging green T-shirts, caps and souvenirs. Tribesmen in North Waziristan were even cleaning their guns and collecting explosives for celebratory fire in preparation for their beloved Pakistan beating India.

Markets, schools and offices were closed in the region’s main town Miranshah and many made special arrangements to watch the match on giant screens.