Low-flying chopper enrages madrassa pupils in Pakistan
Apr 16, 2007 - 5:34:31 PM

Islamabad, April 16 - Hundreds of stick-wielding religious students swarmed roads in Islamabad Monday after a military helicopter apparently carried out aerial surveillance of their mosque compound.

The army chopper hovered over the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, for more than 15 minutes as at least two men clinging to it took pictures, the mosque's deputy administrator Abdul Rashid Ghazi told journalists at a hurriedly called press conference.

Lal Masjid and two of its affiliated madrassas have been at loggerheads with the government for nearly three months over the demolition of illegal mosques in the capital.

'This action has infringed the privacy of our girl students and violated the basic human rights,' Ghazi said.

The aerial survey came as military commanders began a four-day meeting in the garrison town of Rawalpindi to discuss the internal and external security situation, and a day later thousands of people protested in the port city of Karachi against the situation created by the Lal Masjid's clerics.

Seeking an apology from President Pervez Musharraf, who also commands the Pakistani military, the hard-line cleric announced immediate suspension of talks with politicians, who were mediating between the local authorities and the mosque administration.

'The negotiations were moving forward but it has become impossible to continue these after today's episode,' Ghazi noted.

Chief of the ruling Pakistani Muslim League party Chaudhry Shujaat, who is known for his diplomatic approach to conflicts, is in direct contact with the Lal Masjid administration to end the standoff prevailing since January 20.

The radical clerics earlier this month introduced a self-declared Islamic court on the mosque premises, challenging the writ of the Musharraf government that is already drawing international criticism for not effectively clamping down on growing militancy in the country.

The madrassa students have also been carrying out morality patrols in Islamabad and are issuing warnings to the owners of audio and video stores to close their businesses as they were promoting obscenity.

Tens of thousands of people rallied on Sunday in the largest city of Karachi against the enforced anti-vice campaign by the fundamentalists in the country's capital.

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