Pakistan Steps Up Security Amid Call for Protests

Security across Pakistan was tightened Friday after Islamic radicals threatened protests over a government assault that left more than 100 dead at a mosque in the capital, officials said.

On Thursday, a coalition of religious parties endorsed a call by 13,000 religious schools for a nationwide protest against the attack on the Red Mosque in Islamabad, a move that would step up pressure on Pakistan's embattled President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Al-Qaida and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan have urged attacks, including suicide bombings, against government targets. The brother of a cleric killed in the eight-day mosque siege called for an "Islamic revolution."

Two suicide attacks were reported Thursday, a day after the siege ended in a hail of bullets and explosions that wiped out well-armed militants inside the sprawling mosque compound.

Also on Thursday, Musharraf, speaking on nationwide television, said he was resolved to eradicate extremism in Pakistan - focusing on the Afghan border region, which the U.S. says is increasingly a haven for al-Qaida and other terrorists.

Violence across northwestern Pakistan has killed at least 35 people since the fighting at the mosque began last week, prompting the army to send troops to at least four parts of the region to contain the backlash.

"Extremism and terrorism will be defeated in every corner of the country," Musharraf said. He said that madrassas, or religious schools, will not be tolerated if they inculcate violence among students, like some under the Red Mosque's umbrella did.

Tariq Azim, the deputy information minister, told The Associated Press that the government has taken "appropriate steps to safeguard the lives and property of common people, and to ensure that no one damages public property."

Security forces were on "high alert" in Quetta city near the Afghan border, police chief Rehmat Ullah Niazi said.

In the country's largest city, Karachi, senior police official Azhar Faruqi said police were deployed outside mosques and other buildings ahead of expected protest after Friday prayers.

There has not yet been a mass popular protest over the Red Mosque siege, indicating that the crackdown has raised Musharraf's standing among moderate Pakistanis worried about extremism in their nation.

The assault, however, has given hard-liners a new rallying cry and sparked calls for revenge attacks.

"God willing, Pakistan will have an Islamic revolution soon," said the Red Mosque's chief cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz at the funeral of his brother, cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who was killed during a last-ditch defense of the mosque.

Aziz, who was arrested last week while trying to slip out of the mosque disguised as a woman, was allowed by authorities to attend the Thursday funeral in Ghazi's ancestral village in Punjab province.

Army commandos captured the Red Mosque in a 35-hour battle that ended Wednesday. Ghazi was among the 85 people killed during the final assault on the mosque, whose radical clerics had led an increasingly violent vigilante anti-vice campaign in the capital.

From Associated Press reports

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