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Foreign Religious Students Ordered Out of Pakistan

Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, has banned admission of foreigners in Islamic seminaries known as madrassas in the country and has told foreigners currently studying in these institutions to leave Pakistan.

President Musharraf's announcement comes a week after he ordered a crackdown on militant groups, mosques and religious schools suspected of spreading Islamic extremism. Security forces are said to have rounded up more than 600 suspected Islamic militants and clerics in raids across Pakistan.

Speaking to reporters at his Army House in the garrison city of Rawalpindi on Friday, the president said a new law will be enacted in the next few days requiring Islamic seminaries around the country to register with the government by the end of the year. Mr. Musharraf says the law will also prevent non-Pakistanis from seeking admissions in these seminaries.

"I have made it clear all foreigners are to be removed from Pakistan, anyone in the madrassas even a dual nationality holder will leave Pakistan. We don't want any foreigners here. There are about 1,400 [foreign students in religious schools], they must leave. We will not issue visas to such people," said Mr. Musharraf.

President Musharraf says there will be no let up in the drive to stamp out terrorism and religious extremism. He says security forces are mainly going after leaders of outlawed Islamic groups.

"The actions against the banned organizations will continue and we will be very strongly dealing with them in the terrorist courts. And we have decided that we need to get the bigwigs, their leaders must be caught," he added.

Pakistan's Madrassas have been in the spotlight following news that some of the suspected suicide bombers in the July 7 attacks in London had recently visited Pakistan. Pakistan authorities also have established that at least one of the suspects had spent time at a religious seminary during trips to Pakistan.

President Musharraf says security agencies are cooperating closely with their British counterparts but they have yet to make a conclusion and have not arrested anyone suspected of involvement in the deadly bombings in London.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been urging Pakistan to move against extremist Madrassas.

There are around 12,000 religious seminaries in Pakistan, often providing education, shelter and food to its students mainly from poor families.