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Suicide Bomb Goes Off in Islamabad; Religious Students Stage Demonstrations Outside Mosque 


A powerful bomb has ripped through a hotel restaurant near Islamabad's Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque. Local media report at least 13 people have died and many more were seriously injured. Hundreds of outraged religious students led violent demonstrations outside the mosque Friday, two weeks after government forces stormed the compound and arrested scores of suspected militants. VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports from Islamabad.

Ambulances rushed to the scene Friday evening as police struggled to contain mounting protests nearby.

The dead and wounded from the suicide bomb attack were taken to an area hospital. Witnesses say several police were among those killed.

Just a few blocks away security forces used tear gas and armored cars to disperse hundreds of violent protesters near the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque.

Hundreds of people reoccupied the mosque Friday morning, reigniting fears of another stand off in the capital.

Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao says the government will be fair but firm toward the protesters.

He says the government remains determined not to allow people to take the law into their own hands.

Earlier Friday, hard-line religious students blocked a government-appointed cleric from leading afternoon prayers inside the mosque.

Hundreds more gathered outside to demand the return of the mosque's former cleric, the pro-Taleban Abdul Aziz.

The government reopened the mosque Thursday. Security forces had stormed the compound July 10 after a weeklong stand off with the Lal Masjid's militant supporters.

More than 100 people were killed in the two-day assault.

Aziz was arrested while trying to sneak out of the mosque disguised as a woman.

His brother, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, refused to surrender and was killed in the battle.

Both men had helped transform the mosque into a center of Islamic extremism and militancy, and they endorsed the Taleban Islamists in Afghanistan.

They wanted to impose Islamic law in the capital and led a violent anti-vice campaign.

Militants around the country have vowed revenge for the government raid.

A series of devastating suicide bombs killed more than 150 people last week and officials say more are expected.

The government rebuilt the Red Mosque to help ease tensions. Workers replaced the mosque's bullet-riddled ceiling and covered its walls with a pale peach paint.

But student radicals show no sign of backing down.

Several defiantly repainted much of the mosque back to its original red on Friday afternoon.

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