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At least 19 people have been killed since Tuesday at a mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan, where clerics and their followers have clashed with security forces. A journalist and a political scientist discuss the developments.
An embattled mosque, an embattled president in Pakistan. Ray Suarez has that story.
Sporadic explosions and gunfire pierced the pre-dawn darkness near the Red Mosque in the heart of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. The mosque, long a bastion for Islamic militants, is now surrounded by Pakistani security forces.
Police used loudspeakers to urge hundreds of students holed up inside to surrender. Over the past three days, hundreds of Pakistani troops have tightened their grip around the mosque and its adjoining religious schools. It's the strongest attempt to end months of efforts by student militants who were going out in the streets to impose a Taliban-style version of Islamic law in the capital city.
The worst violence erupted Tuesday, with clashes between security forces and armed students. Ten people were killed; scores more were injured; and another six are reported dead today.
The confrontation around the mosque in this overwhelmingly Muslim nation is just the latest political challenge to Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf. He already faces emboldened militants near the Afghan border and a pro-democracy movement triggered by his suspension of the country's chief justice.
On Wednesday, the government ordered the Red Mosque militants to lay down their arms and surrender. Hundreds, mainly male and female students from the mosque's madrassas or religious schools, obeyed the call. Yesterday, the Red Mosque's top cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, was captured while trying to escape wearing a woman's burqa. During an interview broadcast on state television, Aziz had this message for those still inside the mosque.
MAULANA ABDUL AZIZ, Head Cleric, Red Mosque (through translator):
If they can get out quietly they should go, or they can surrender if they want to.
Authorities have imposed a curfew and cut off power to the area around the Red Mosque. It's just a few blocks from Islamabad's main government buildings. Pakistani officials said they're holding back from storming the complex to avoid civilian casualties.
JAVED IQBAL CHEEMA, Interior Ministry Spokesman, Pakistan:
We have to be patient. There are human beings inside; there are people inside; there are girls and women inside; there are children inside. So we have to take all these things into account. I mean, let's not straightaway storming into the building.
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