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Pakistani Women Rally Against Radical Mosque in Islamabad


More than 100 women led a protest rally against a radical mosque in central Islamabad. VOA Correspondent Benjamin Sand reports from Islamabad the Lal Masjid mosque is at the center of a growing controversy, after trying to enforce Taleban-style law in the Pakistani capital.

Chanting anti-extremist slogans, the women demanded government action against the hard-line Islamic mosque.

The women marched down a broad avenue several blocks away from the Lal Masjid mosque. Several waved banners reading 'down with religious fascists' and 'no to extremism, yes to music and to life'.

Protester Nosheen Saeed says Pakistani women are fed up with Islamic hardliners who want to impose a Taleban-style Islamic law on the country.

"For a very long time we have been the silent majority watching all this happen and now we are going to come out on the streets and we will not allow them to hijack our religion like this," she said. "We will not allow them to poison our youth like this."

Lal Masjid and two of its religious seminaries are at the center of a growing stand-off with government authorities.

The mosque's leaders say they are preparing a so-called Islamic revolution for Pakistan that will begin this Friday.

Thousands of students from the mosque's religious seminaries already swept through one of Islamabad's main market areas last week, warning shop owners against selling music or movies. Days earlier, the students kidnapped three women from the same neighborhood after accusing them of running a brothel.

Hundreds more have been occupying a nearby children's library since January 21 to protest government efforts to demolish several mosques illegally built on government property.

Farzani Barbi, who helped organize the rally, says the government has to enforce the rule of law or cede control to Islamic extremists.

"It is getting worse because the government has not done anything to stop them," she said. "As a result of that they are encouraged and now they are going into people's homes."

She says the mosque has become a state within a state and a breeding ground for religious militants right in the heart of Pakistan's capital.

More than 11,000 students and worshippers attend the mosque and its madrasas (schools).

The religious complex remains off limits to government forces and baton-wielding students guard the entire block around the mosque. Eyewitnesses say scores of machine guns have been stockpiled inside.

The government says that, at least for now, it will avoid using force against the mosque and is seeking a negotiated settlement to help end the crisis.

But observers say Lal Masjid's supporters show no signs of backing down and seem intent on further escalating the political stand-off.