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Thousands rally for peace after Pakistan sharia deal

world Updated: Feb 19, 2009 03:39 IST

Around 15,000 people marched for peace in Pakistan's Swat valley today, led by a cleric who signed a deal to enforce Islamic law in the troubled area, witnesses and police said.

Soofi Mohammad, leader of the Sharia movement, led a crowd of around 15,000 people in the valley's main town Mingora, police and witnesses said.

"I have come here to establish peace and I will not leave until this mission is achieved," Mohammad told the crowd.

The marchers, carrying black and white flags, paraded through town with the cleric, who advised them not to chant slogans and recite only Koranic verses.

Mohammad, who arrived in Mingora yesterday, met administration and military officials overnight, his spokesman Amir Izzat said.

He is hoping to meet Maulana Fazlullah, who led a violent campaign to enforce sharia in Swat after Mohammad was jailed in Pakistan, Izzat said.

He did not give date and venue of the meeting, however.

Mohammad, who is Fazlullah's father-in-law, will try to convince the Taliban to lay down their arms in the scenic valley.

Monday's controversial deal between the elderly Mohammad, who has spent more than seven years away from Swat, and the Pakistani government to enforce sharia law has sparked concern from NATO, India and the United States.

Thousands of Fazlullah's men have spent two years beheading opponents, bombing schools, outlawing entertainment and fighting government forces in Swat, a former ski resort, causing tens of thousands of people to flee.