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Pak's besieged cleric ready to face court

world Updated: Jul 10, 2007 16:24 IST

Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the hard-line Pakistani cleric holed up in the besieged Lal Masjid in Islamabad, has agreed to face the charges against him in court provided the government delayed military action for three weeks, media reports said on Sunday.

Ghazi has been in the heavily fortified mosque since Tuesday, when thousands of military troops started an operation to flush out his followers from the mosque after they attacked a police checkpoint.

"The security operation should be delayed for three weeks, and if there are any charges against me they should be decided in the court during this period," he was cited by the Geo news channel Saturday as telling the president of ruling Pakistan Muslim League party Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain over the phone.

"If the court finds me innocent, I should be given safe passage to leave the mosque," said Ghazi who has repeatedly vowed over the past five days that he would die rather than give himself in to the authorities.

"We can never turn ourselves in. We will accept martyrdom but will not surrender," the leader of the militants Abdul Rashid Ghazi told Geo on Friday.

Authorities have said several criminal cases were registered against him, including the kidnapping of several alleged prostitutes in his campaign for enforcement of Taliban-style strict Islamic law in the country.

Earlier, a five-member delegation of religious political parties parliamentarians and representatives had been deterred from mediation efforts at the mosque on Saturday morning by 11 powerful blasts.

The extremist cleric also requested Hussain to move a dead body to the hospital that had been lying at the main gate of the mosque and started to rot, assuring him that his followers would not open fire at the approaching ambulance.

Meanwhile, a powerful blast, followed by heavy exchange of fire, was heard at the besieged mosque Saturday evening. Clouds of smoke were seen rising from the mosque, a witness said.