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Lal Masjid siege: Talks still on
July 09, 2007 18:51 IST
Last-minute efforts are still on to avert a military showdown in the siege of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad.
A Financial Times report said a group of Islamic clerics are to meet Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz to plead for a compromise, while another report in The Times of London [Images] said President Pervez Musharraf [Images] had appointed former prime minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain to work with the scholars' delegation to work out a compromise solution in what is now a six-day standoff between radical Islamic militants and the government of Pakistan.
On Saturday, Musharraf issued an ultimatum to the militants: surrender or die.
The FT report also quoted Pakistan's Religious Affairs Minister Ijaz ul-Haq saying that Abdul Rashid Ghazi, chief cleric of the Lal Masjid, was a 'mere pawn', and that five hardcore militants had seized control of the mosque.
In what seemed as a reverberations of the battle in the capital, three Chinese workers were killed and one injured in the outskirts of Peshawar and Maulana Fazlullah, a radical cleric in the North West Frontier Province, declared 'holy war' on the government for its handling of the crisis.
The Lal Masjid standoff was sparked when seven Chinese massage parlour workers in Islamabad were kidnapped by hardline militants for what the kidnappers said amounted to prostitution. They were released after intense pressure from the Pakistan government.
China, Pakistan's strategic ally, also believes some Muslim separatist leaders in its province get shelter and support in Pakistan.
The Times report says among the militants inside the mosque are members of the outlawed Harkat Jihad-e-Islam, which is suspected of being behind the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.