Friday, July 06, 2007

Pakistan Extends Mosque Deadline; Students Surrender

July 4 (Bloomberg) -- Pakistan extended a deadline at Islamabad's Red Mosque after at least 16 people were killed in gun battles between police and students supporting the chief cleric's call for Islamic law to be imposed in the city. About 710 students at the mosque surrendered, the government said.

Police charged chief cleric Maulana Mohammad Abdul Aziz and his deputy Abdul Rashid Ghazi with murder and terrorism, police spokesman Muhammad Amaar said by telephone. Other charges include damaging state property and interfering in state matters. Aziz was arrested while trying to escape dressed as a woman wearing a burqa, or veil, state-run Pakistan Television said. The government earlier set a deadline of 11 a.m. Islamabad time for the students to give themselves up and has extended it without setting a specific time, Tariq Azeem, the deputy information minister, said.

Ghazi told Aaj TV earlier the students won't surrender, potentially deepening a standoff with the government that started after the chief cleric set up an Islamic court on the premises on April 6.

The two clerics ``remain defiant but they don't have a choice,'' Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema told reporters in Islamabad. ``Still, we are getting signals from inside the mosque seeking more time as more students want to surrender.''

There may be more people dead inside the mosque following the two days of clashes between students and police, Information Secretary Anwar Mahmood said at a news conference in Islamabad.

More Surrenders Seen

The government has extended the deadline because ``the response has been more than our expectation,'' Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani said at the news conference. ``Our strategy is that we vacate the mosque with minimum losses.''

``There is still time to surrender,'' Azeem told a news conference in the Pakistani capital earlier today. ``We are showing maximum restraint because we believe the issue can be resolved peacefully.''

The government is offering to pay 5,000 rupees ($82.82) to each student who surrenders, Azeem said. Action will be taken against those students who took up arms against the security forces yesterday, Azeem said.

Between 2,000 and 2,500 people were inside the mosque before the latest surrender, according to Azeem. Ten people, including four security officials, were killed in the clashes overnight and 94 were injured, he said.

Negotiated Settlement

Religious scholars are trying to negotiate a settlement with the authorities, Ghazi told Aaj TV, which put the death toll from the gun battles at 21.

Pakistan imposed a curfew around the mosque site early today and Deputy Interior Minister Zafar Iqbal Warraich said anyone violating the restriction would be shot.

``We have shown enough patience by not taking action against the students because of the presence of women inside the mosque,'' Warraich said. ``It is time to establish the writ of the government.''

President Pervez Musharraf's government has been trying to resolve the standoff at the Red Mosque, or Lal Masjid, since Maulana Mohammad Abdul Aziz, the chief cleric, set up the court.

Illegal Occupation

``We don't want more bloodshed,'' Azeem said. ``We want the illegal occupation of the mosque and the seminary to end.''

When asked if the government would enter discussions with the clerics he said, ``there can be no talks with criminals.''

The standoff between police and the students began in April when Aziz, the mosque's chief cleric said he wanted to bring Islamabad under Islamic law. President Pervez Musharraf has stressed that Pakistan must follow a path of moderation to defeat extremism in the country.

Pakistan deployed rangers and police outside the mosque last week to stop the students from raiding shops and houses following last week's kidnapping and release of seven Chinese people.

Pakistan's government also negotiated the release of four policemen taken hostage by the students at the mosque in May.

The students have raided shops in the nearby Aabpara market on grounds they were selling obscene films and wanted the owners to close their businesses. The government delayed an operation against the cleric because there were female students on the premises, Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said last month.

Clerics also announced a decree calling for former Tourism Minister Nilofar Bahktiar to be punished for wearing an ``objectionable'' dress. Aziz threatened suicide attacks if police tried to shut the court or raid the premises and demanded the government close businesses selling videos and CDs and alleged brothels.

Editorial note: This coward tried to slip away wearing a Burqa, leaving the student inside the Mosque to fend for themselves.

1 comment:

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