A curfew has been imposed around a radical mosque in the Pakistani capital which has been the focus of violent clashes between students and government forces. Dozens of soldiers have surrounded the Red Mosque in Islamabad, where at least 16 people have been killed and 140 injured in the spiralling violence. Despite the clampdown, there have been sporadic exchanges of fire.
The violence flared when women students from one of the mosque’s religious schools tried to remove a wire fence laid down by the army. Students wearing gas masks and wielding automatic rifles taunted police. They have now been ordered to surrender their weapons on pain of death but instead the conflict has taken a turn for the worst, with both sides upping the stakes.
The Pakistani government had resisted taking action against the radical mosque for fear of provoking a violent backlash
But an attack on nearby government buildings has prompted them to announce a that an operation led by paramilitary forces would be launched. The curfew is seen as the first step.
“Our female students, our sisters, have been injured. Our brothers have been martyred and others injured. In retaliation, we are attacking and taking over their government posts. We want to show them that we have the power to destroy and burn their positions,” said one young person.
As the injured were carried away for treatment, the crowd outside became angry. Critics have attacked the government for failing to enforce its authority. But President Pervez Musharraf has said his forces cannot raid the mosque for fear of provoking reprisal suicide attacks.