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US: Pakistan Handled Mosque Takeover Responsibly


The State Department Tuesday expressed understanding for the Pakistani government's decision to use force against militants holding the Red Mosque in Islamabad. A spokesman said Pakistani authorities made extensive efforts to resolve the crisis peacefully. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

U.S. officials had been monitoring the siege at the landmark mosque in Islamabad with concern. While they have not explicitly endorsed the government's decision to use troops against the militants, they say authorities gave the occupiers ample opportunity to lay down their arms and resolve the crisis peacefully.

In a talk with reporters, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Pakistani authorities had taken the steps they felt were appropriate to maintain order in the country.

He said it was obvious that officials had tried to negotiate an end to the crisis and that it was unfortunate that the militants who had taken over the Red Mosque did not respond to what he said had been many opportunities to release their hostages and surrender peacefully:

"I think the government of Pakistan has proceeded in a responsible way on this issue," he said. "They have made a number of efforts to try and resolve this peacefully. Certainly no one wants to see loss of life and certainly loss of innocent life in this process. But ultimately all governments have a responsibility to preserve order and to try and take steps against terrorists and those that commit criminal actions, too."

Casey said he was not characterizing those involved in the mosque takeover as terrorists, though he said no one believes those who engineered the events at the mosque were innocent students.

He said it is clear the Pakistani government is under threat from extremist groups as evidenced by attempts on the life of President Pervez Musharraf and activities of groups associated with the Taleban.

The Bush administration has strongly supported Mr. Musharraf since he made what was described here as a strategic decision in 2001 to side with the United States in the war against terrorism.

U.S. officials have nonetheless been critical of the Islamabad government on human rights issues including recent decrees, since withdrawn, that would have curbed media coverage on the ongoing controversy over the country's suspended Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry.

The State Department has said it wants to see free, fair and transparent elections later this year for a new Pakistani parliament, which is to choose a president.

It has also said that, if Mr. Musharraf follows through on his stated intention to seek another term, he should keep a promise to give up his dual role as army chief of staff.

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