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Thousands in Pakistan Protest Assault on Red Mosque

Thousands of Islamists held protests across Pakistan Friday to denounce the army assault on a radical mosque, while police in North West Frontier Province arrested three suspected suicide bombers.

The anti-government protests were held in all major cities, including the capital, Islamabad, and Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore. But the turnout was smaller than expected.

Some protesters called for jihad, praised Islamic fundamentalism, and said the militants killed during the eight-day siege of the Red Mosque were martyrs.

Government officials say at least 105 people died in the standoff that ended Tuesday with an army assault. At least 75 militants, including four or five unidentified foreigners and 10 Pakistani soldiers were among the dead.

Critics say at least 400 people, perhaps as many as a thousand, were killed and their bodies buried in unmarked graves outside Islamabad. Those charges could not be independently verified.

Clerics and students at the Red Mosque had challenged government authority for several months with a campaign to impose strict Islamic law in Pakistan.

Military officials say the mosque complex was being used to train militants and to plan suicide bomb attacks.

Pakistan is deploying thousands of troops to North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan to monitor rising militant activity in the region.

Pakistani police on Friday arrested three suspected suicide bombers in the town of Dera Ismail Khan and seized several suicide vests and other weapons.

Thursday, suicide bombers killed at least eight people in Pakistan's northwest.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.