Heavy gunfire and explosions rocked the city early on Saturday as militant students in the fortified mosque and Islamic school compound battled security forces after their leader declared he would choose "martyrdom" over surrender.This tension has been building for so long, everybody is getting extra testy ... understandable but not a good sign in any way at all
There was a break in the firing by mid-morning and while the delegation of religious leaders had assembled, nobody had gone in or out of the compound.
Hundreds of troops have besieged Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, since Tuesday when months of tension erupted into clashes. At least 20 people have been killed.
On Saturday, army soldiers were deployed in place of paramilitary troops at many points around the mosque.
"We want the government to end this action. We also want the Lal Masjid authorities to stop being so stubborn and hand over the children," said member of parliament Samia Raheel Qazi.And how many more are inside? We've seen reports claiming the number is in the hundreds.
The cleric leading the militants, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, rejects government accusations he is holding women and children as human shields. But [he] said he would meet the delegation in his mosque.
Ghazi said he and the followers would lay down guns but would never accept arrest. "I fully stand by my position, there's no question of arrests," Ghazi told Reuters early on Saturday, speaking over the crack of rifle fire.
He said three students were killed on Friday.
Smoke and the orange glow of fire rose from the mosque early on Saturday during a heavy exchange of fire. One member of the security forces was killed, said witnesses who saw the body, although authorities denied any casualties.It wouldn't surprise me a bit if everybody's spinning. On the other hand it would surprise me even less if nobody actually knew.
Water, gas and power to the mosque have been cut and food was said to be getting scarce.
About 1,200 students left the mosque after the clashes began but only a trickle of about 20 came out on Friday, among them a boy who said older students were forcing young ones to stay.
Officials say they don't know how many are left in there, though they put the number of hard core militants at 50 to 60, while Ghazi has said there are 1,900 students in the compound, and his elder brother, who was captured trying to escape in a burqa in Wednesday, put the number at 850, including 600 females.
Authorities say they have blasted holes in the compound's walls to enable people to flee. Security forces have also occupied another city madrasa affiliated with the Lal Masjid.Yes, of course. They do that all the time. And Kamran Haider has more, including a good short summary of some of the background behind this very sad situation.
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