Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Pakistan Mosque Assault `Almost Over;' Cleric Killed

July 10 (Bloomberg) -- An operation by Pakistani troops to end a standoff with militants at Islamabad's Red Mosque was ``almost over'' late today after deputy chief cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi was killed in crossfire, an army spokesman said.

The assault was in the ``final stages,'' the spokesman, Major General Waheed Arshad, said in a phone interview from the capital. ``We have control over 90 percent of the complex. Some militants are still resisting,'' he said.

The dispute began in April when chief cleric Maulana Muhammad Abdul Aziz, Ghazi's brother, established a religious court at the Red Mosque, or Lal Masjid, to try to bring the Pakistani capital under Islamic law. Today's raid started when troops poured into the southern side of the complex, after 11 hours of talks between the government and Ghazi failed.

The standoff increased pressure on President Pervez Musharraf, who was criticized by Islamic parties for backing the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism. Musharraf's ouster of the country's top judge in March sparked the most serious protests since he took power in a 1999 military coup. The president, who remains army chief, seeks another five-year term as leader.

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