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At least 9 shot dead in clashe Pakistan mosque
Author:lucy Time:2007-07-04 10:15:39
At least nine people, including a paramilitary soldier, were killed in gunfire during clashes with students at a mosque run by a Taliban-style movement in Islamabad on Tuesday, Pakistani officials said.

Sporadic firing between paramilitary forces and militant students inside the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, rang out for hours in the heart of the leafy capital, but there was no sign of an assault on the compound.

The behaviour of the students has dismayed many in the capital and liberal politicians have criticised President Pervez Musharraf for months for not cracking down on them.

The government had refrained from using force, out of fear it could provoke suicide attacks, or lead to casualties among female students that could spark a wider backlash from religious conservatives.

Deputy Interior Minister Zafar Warraich told a news conference the total number of dead was nine. A cleric inside the mosque earlier told Reuters eight students had been killed.

An Interior Ministry official said four of the dead were students, one a soldier and another a cameraman. Another three appeared to be people caught in crossfire, while 148 people had been admitted to hospitals, some with bullet wounds, but most suffering from the effects of teargas.

As the firing continued, a loudspeaker in the mosque broadcast a message calling for suicide attacks, though a cleric in the mosque denied to Reuters that any such order had been given.

The clashes began when about 150 students attacked a security picket at a Pakistani government office near the mosque, snatched weapons and took four officials hostage, according to police.

Paramilitary forces fired teargas to disperse hundreds of students outside the mosque, and came under fire from automatic weapons.

A deputy leader of the student movement, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, told Reuters: "They are behaving brutally. So far eight of our students have been killed."

Three journalists, including two westerners, were conducting interviews in a women's madrasa in the mosque's compound, when the shooting started, and were believed to be still inside.

Burqa-clad women stood on the rooftops of an adjacent madrasa, or Islamic school, shouting anti-government slogans, while some men were seen brandishing Kalashnikov rifles. Students set alight part of a building housing the Environment Ministry along with cars outside.

The government said it wanted talks.

"Despite unprovoked firing by the students of Lal Masjid, the government still wants to settle the issue through dialogue," Warraich told state-run Pakistan Television.


Students carrying staves were on the street outside the mosque after darkness fell, as security forces sealed off the area.

"Kill us. We will die but we will not back off from our demands to enforce Islamic Sharia," Mahira, one of the female students, told Reuters by telephone.

Scores of men, women and children living in the neighbourhood also came out on the streets shouting support for the students, and calling on the government to stop the firing.

The Red Mosque has long been known as a centre of Islamic radicalism.

Trouble began in January when female students attached to the mosque occupied a library next to their madrasa to protest against the destruction of mosques built illegally on state land.

There are some 5,000 students at the madrasas affiliated to the Lal Masjid, most of them from poorer parts of North West Frontier Province, bordering Afghanistan.

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