Pakistan mosque leader arrested

Cleric seized by security forces while trying to flee in burqa.

    More than 700 men and women have left the
    mosque and adjoining madrassa [AFP]

    "Around 700 have come out, more are coming. They were provided with transport facilities to go to their homes," Chaudhry Mohammad Ali, a city official, said.

    Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, said each of them would receive 5,000 rupees ($83), while other officials said they would be offered an amnesty as long as they were not involved in Tuesday's violence.

    'Unusual demeanour'

    Television footage showed security officials dragging Aziz towards a black car before he was driven away. Officials said he was caught in a screening centre set up to check people leaving the mosque.
      
    "He was the last in a group of women all wearing the same clothes. He was wearing a burqa that also covered his eyes," a senior security official told AFP.
      
    "Our men spotted his unusual demeanour. The rest of the girls looked like girls but he was taller and had a pot belly."

    Sporadic gunfire was heard around the mosque late on Wednesday after police fired tear gas shells at the compound.

    Helicopter gunships continued to fly overhead and troops in armoured personnel carriers held their positions as police enforced a curfew imposed after clashes on Tuesday left up to two dozen people dead.

    Talking tough

    As the first deadline passed on Wednesday morning, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the brother of the captured cleric, said he was prepared to talk with the government but added, "We will continue to defend ourselves".

     

    Security forces set up screening centres to
    check people leaving the Red Mosque [AFP]

    He said the mosque had enough supplies to carry on "until God wants".

    But the government said it would not open dialogue with the mosque's clerics.
       
    "The prime minister made it clear that time for negotiations with the management of Lal Masjid had lapsed due to the obstinate and uncompromising attitude of the Ghazi brothers," the government said.

    In recent months, the Lal Masjid has been put under increasing pressure by Pakistani authorities.

    Anti-vice campaign

    The mosque started an anti-vice campaign in Islamabad six months ago, with its students abducting women they saw as having carried out immoral acts.

    Musharraf has also accused the mosque of sheltering al-Qaeda members. 

    About 5,000 students, most from poor areas of Pakistan, are registered at the mosque and its affiliated schools.

    Elsewhere in Pakistan, at least 12 people have been killed in attacks on security forces.  

    A suicide bomber drove his explosives filled car into a military convoy, killing himself and eight others in the northwestern town of Bannu.

    Later, four bystanders were killed and a senior police official and his guard wounded in a bomb blast in the Swat region

    It is not known if the attacks were linked to the siege at the Red Mosque.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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