07/05/2007, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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‘Red Mosque’ chief urges students to surrender

Maulana Abdul Aziz, spiritual head of the Lal Masjid, was arrested trying to escape dressed in a burqa among a group of women. Total number of dead is still uncertain but government continues talking to Islamic terrorists holed up in the mosque.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) chief cleric spoke on state TV, urging militant students inside to end their fight and surrender to the authorities. Maulana Abdul Aziz, head of the mosque and adjacent Jamia Hafsa madrassa, told students not to sacrifice their lives for him.

He was arrested on Wednesday night as he tried to escape from the mosque complex dressed in a burqa mingled among a group of women. A police woman noticed his height and unfeminine body and stopped him.

In his comments to state TV he said he realised people inside the mosque could not hold out for long.

Clashes began the other day when police stopped some madrassa students, but got worse over night.

This morning government forces launched volleys of tear gas. From inside grenades were thrown at troops.

The number of dead is not clear. One estimate confirmed by the Interior Ministry is 16 dead. Eyewitnesses speak of dead bodies lying around inside the mosque.

The religious affairs minister said that the building is being held by about 30 armed terrorists who are preventing an unspecified number of students from leaving.

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