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Hardline Pakistani Cleric Leads 'Peace March' in Swat Valley

The hard-line Islamic cleric who signed a deal with Pakistani officials led a peace march Wednesday in northwestern Swat Valley to convince Taliban militants to lay down their arms.

Sufi Muhammad and thousands of his supporters marched through Mingora. It is the main town in the one-time ski resort that is now the site of a bloody insurgency to impose Islamic law [Sharia].

During a speech, the elderly Muhammad called on the public to abide by the deal he struck with officials of North West Frontier Province in exchange for restoring Sharia to the region.

Muhammad led thousands of volunteers to fight the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan in 2002 and was later detained and then released after promising to renounce violence.

He is the father-in-law of Maulana Fazlullah, who heads a more hard-line group of Pakistani Taliban that controls much of the Swat valley.

A spokesman for Fazlullah said the militant leader will support his father-in-law's peace agreement. The two men are reportedly going to meet to discuss implementing the peace deal.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has praised the deal, saying it is in line with his government's policy of "dialogue, development and deterrence."

But NATO has expressed concern, saying the agreement could create a safe haven for extremists.

The United States has said only that officials are awaiting further details from the Pakistani government.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.