07/28/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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In seven days 600 Islamic fundamentalists rounded up

Many of them are thought involved in the growing sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Almost 600 people have been arrested in just one week as part of a crackdown against Islamic militants and hatemongering preachers launched by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, said Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao.

Mr Sherpao explained that the government is enforcing the Anti-Terrorism Law which allows detention of up to a year for anyone suspected of terrorism without formal charges being brought against him.

He said those detained included members of banned militant organisations, clerics accused of delivering "provocative" speeches and fomenting sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites and Islamists accused of publishing or distributing hate material.

Those taken into custody include members of Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, three groups that have links with the al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.

The crackdown began after British Prime Minister called on Pakistan to do so something about the country's madrassas or Islamic schools. Three of the London bombers had visited Pakistan prior to the July 7 attacks.

Pakistani government sources deny however any link between the ongoing operations and the attacks in the British capital or the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheik.

In a televised speech, President Musharraf announced stern actions against hatemongers and closer scrutiny of Islamic extremist groups and religious schools—the latter are suspected of being favourable recruiting and training grounds for Islamic fighters.

Such schools offer free education to about a million boys, especially in the areas and among those who cannot attend public schools. But by December of this year, all 10,000 and more of them will have to be registered with the authorities.

Because many of them are unregistered, they are without any supervision as to funding and curricula.

In response to the crackdown, the administrators of many of these schools have demanded the government "immediately" stop its actions against their institutions.

"We demand that madrassas not be burdened, directly or indirectly, with accusations of terrorism, extremism and of training militants," said a statement released by a madrassa association.

The Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a coalition of six opposition Islamic parties, criticised the government's crackdown, calling it "state terrorism", and accused President Musharraf of being "a puppet of the West".

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