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Pakistani Cleric Spearheads Swat Valley Peace Efforts

A hard-line Islamic cleric in Pakistan's Swat valley has met with his Taliban son-in-law in an effort to seek peace in the region.

A Taliban spokesman said the cleric, Sufi Muhammad, met Thursday with Maulana Fazlullah to negotiate an end to fighting between militants and the government. Fazlullah heads a hard-line group of Pakistani Taliban that controls much of the northwestern Swat valley.

Muhammad and thousands of his supporters held a peace march Wednesday in the town of Mingora to convince Taliban militants to lay down their arms.

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 Islamic law 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.

A spokesman for Fazlullah said the militant leader will support his father-in-law's peace efforts.

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.

Meanwhile, demonstrators gathered across Pakistan Thursday to protest against the killing of a television reporter Wednesday in Swat valley. Hundreds of demonstrators, including journalists and lawyers, marched from the press club in Peshawar to the governor's house. Similar protests were held in Lahore, Bannu and Noshehra.

Geo TV's Mosa Khankhel was shot dead when he was on duty in the Taliban-controlled town of Matta, where he was reporting on Sufi Muhammad.

No one has claimed responsibility for his death.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.