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Pakistani forces take over cleric's complex

Troops gain control of two towns in the Swat district and search for pro-Taliban militants.

December 07, 2007|From the Associated Press

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN — Security forces blew up the home of a fugitive pro-Taliban cleric Thursday after capturing two militant-held towns in northern Pakistan, the army said.

Security forces faced no resistance in taking cleric Maulana Qazi Fazlullah's complex, which includes a seminary, hostels and a mosque, army officials said. The complex, near the town of Mingora, was abandoned when about 400 troops and police moved in, backed by tanks and helicopter gunships.

Maj. Gen. Nasir Janjua said Fazlullah's home was blown up but the entire complex would not be demolished.

"This has been built with the donations from our sisters and brothers," he said. "The people should decide its usage in the future."

Fazlullah has called for a holy war against the government.

Since Wednesday, troops have swept into the towns of Khawazakhela and Matta in the scenic Swat district, where Fazlullah's supporters have taken up arms in response to his calls for strict Islamic law. Some fled before the towns were overrun.

With Swat under curfew, security forces were consolidating their hold on the towns, searching for militants, land mines and booby traps, the army said, and four people were detained.

Troops have killed more than 230 fighters and arrested 90 in the area since Nov. 24, officials said. Twenty civilians have been killed, the army said.

Elsewhere, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tried to lead hundreds of supporters, joined by some lawyers, in a march to the heavily guarded Islamabad home of deposed Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, who has been under house arrest since President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency Nov. 3.

Riot police blocked the route with concrete and steel barriers and barbed wire. Sharif led his followers to the blockade, then spoke briefly before they dispersed peacefully, defusing a potential showdown.

Sharif, who was ousted by Musharraf in 1999 and returned from exile 10 days ago, vowed to continue to push for the reinstatement of Chaudhry and other judges.

Musharraf has stacked the Supreme Court with loyalists, who have dismissed all complaints against the former general's election.

Lawyers boycotted court proceedings in some cities Thursday. Several lawyers and police were injured in scuffles at a rally in the central city of Multan, witnesses said.

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