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Musharraf resolves to remove militancy

world Updated: Jul 13, 2007 10:53 IST
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Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf vowed to eradicate extremism "from every nook and corner of the country" on Thursday after a bloody confrontation at an Islamabad mosque in which at least 105 people died.

"I want to say it clearly that extremism and terrorism have not been eradicated from Pakistan," he said in an address to the nation following Tuesday's commando assault on Islamabad's Lal Masjid.

"But our resolve is to eliminate terrorism and extremism from every nook and corner of the country," he said.

At least 75 followers of rebel cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi were killed in Tuesday's assault on the Lal Masjid, a mosque and school complex sympathetic to Afghanistan's Taliban.

Most of them were interred without ceremony in unmarked graves before daybreak on Thursday, while Ghazi was buried by grieving relatives in his ancestral village in Punjab province. "It is a day to mourn, it is a day for introspection, grief and sorrow," Musharraf said. "We acted against our own people."

But he vowed not to allow mosques or madrasas like the Lal Masjid's Jamia Hafsa to be used to spread militancy, though it is a promise he has made in the past and yet to fulfil.

Eleven soldiers were among those killed in clashes which first broke out outside the mosque on July 3, resulting in a week-long siege, before the final assault.

Journalists were shown a blackened room in the mosque's religious school where an army spokesman said a suicide bomber died along with a half-dozen victims whose bodies were so badly burned it was impossible to tell their age or gender.

Ghazi was killed on Tuesday along with a handful of hardcore militants he had gathered around him in his drive to impose strict Islamic rule on the capital.

His elder brother Abdul Aziz, caught fleeing disguised as a woman in the early stages of the siege, led the prayers before Ghazi's body was buried at their ancestral village.

Mourners smashed the coffin's glass lid and tore a white cloth from the corpse's face to see if it was really that of the 43-year-old cleric. There were chants of "al Jihad, al Jihad".

Al Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri, in an Internet video, called for revenge, stoking fears of a backlash.

"If you do not retaliate ... Musharraf will not spare you," said Zawahri, believed to be hiding on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Toughest period

Musharraf is facing what is probably his toughest period since he seized power in a coup in 1999, with elections due at the end of the year and a simmering judicial crisis triggered when he removed the country's top judge in March.

He has also been criticised abroad for failing to do enough to curb Islamist militancy.

The Red Mosque radicals had turned their compound into a virtual fortress during a series of confrontations with the authorities over the last six months.

It took the commandos more than 24 hours to eliminate the final pocket of resistance. On Wednesday evening, the last survivor, a wounded militant, was found in a basement washroom.

In contrast to the graveside scenes in Punjab, scores of Ghazi's supporters were buried without any relatives present. There were no names on the coffins, only number codes.

"All the victims have been fingerprinted and photographed and their DNA test has been taken to help parents and relatives identity them, then the bodies will be handed over," said Rana Akbar Hayat, a senior city administrator.

Meanwhile, parents and relatives frantically searched hospitals, hoping to find missing children.

"I have searched almost every hospital in the city," sobbed Noor Mohammad from Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal region, whose 13-year-old son Mirza Alam was in the mosque.

The storming of the Red Mosque intensified anti-government feelings in northwest Pakistan, particularly in tribal regions.

Nearly 30 people were killed in bomb attacks targeting security forces in just over a week, three Chinese workers were shot on Sunday, and protesters ransacked offices and supplies of Western aid agencies working in a mountain town and villages.

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