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Moderate cleric to run Lal Masjid

world Updated: Jul 25, 2007 18:13 IST

Ending the four-decade hold of radical clerics on the Lal Masjid in Islamabad, Pakistan government has appointed a moderate to run its administration in the aftermath of the July 11 military raid against the mosque.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz appointed 55-year-old Maulana Ashfaq as the new 'Khateeb' (cleric) of the Lal Masjid, who is currently with the nearby Bilal Masjid.

The new cleric, who belongs to the Deobandi school of thought, has been appointed on a basic pay and would be given extra perks and privileges.

Earlier this month, the radical head cleric of the Lal Masjid, Maulala Abdul Aziz, was arrested while he was attempting to flee wearing a burqa during a standoff with the security forces while his brother Abdul Rashid Ghazi was killed in the Army operation.

Aziz and Ghazi's family has controlled the mosque ever since it was built by the government in 1965 with their father Maulana Abdullah being its first cleric, who was appointed by then military ruler Ayub Khan.

Local daily 'Dawn' reported that the new Lal Masjid cleric is a balanced man and free from any controversy.

Ashfaq will lead Friday prayers in the mosque after it remained closed for over a fortnight following the Army operation to flush out militants, which claimed 103 lives.

A new residential unit would be built at a cost of Rs 40 lakh for the new cleric and his family within the premises of Lal Masjid.

The government has deployed over 200 civic workers to renovate the mosque and remove the scars of pitched battles between militants holed up there and the Pakistan military.

Aziz is expected to visit the Lal Masjid tomorrow to inspect the renovation work.