Saturday, July 14, 2007

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Thousands of soldiers rolled across northwestern Pakistan yesterday, a day after President Pervez Musharraf vowed to follow the storming of Islamabad’s Red Mosque by eliminating extremism from “every corner” of the country.

Anti-Musharraf protesters took to the streets of every major city to blame the U.S.-backed leader for the violence at the mosque, some chanting slogans in favor of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

But the rallies were smaller than expected, and there was a lull in the violent backlash from militant groups that had staged suicide bombings and attacks on foreign aid groups in reaction to the mosque siege.

Officials said thousands of soldiers were deploying to various parts of North-West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan and where militant groups are increasingly active.

An army brigade was heading up the Swat Valley, 75 miles northeast of Peshawar, where a suicide car bomber killed three policeman at a checkpoint Thursday, said Mohammed Javed, the valley’s top administrator.

That attack raised to 35 the number of people killed in bombings and shootings in the northwest since the Red Mosque crisis began July 3.

Television footage showed army trucks, some pulling heavy artillery, lined up on a road in the area.

The Swat Valley is a stronghold of a radical cleric who presses for the imposition of Taliban-style rule, much like the leaders of the Red Mosque.

Maulana Fazlullah, who has close links to a militant group outlawed for sending followers to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2001, reportedly told supporters to prepare for holy war in response to the battle in the capital.

Pakistan’s troops were also sent to Dera Ismail Khan, a town near the tribally governed Waziristan border region, a Taliban stronghold where U.S. intelligence says al Qaeda is regrouping.

Police said they raided a house in Dera Ismail Khan yesterday, arresting three suspected suicide bombers and seizing five explosives vests.

The military said it also deployed soldiers near Battagram, a northern town badly affected by a 2005 earthquake. According to aid workers and press reports, mobs broke off from a protest Thursday against the Red Mosque raid to loot and set fire to the offices of several international aid groups.

“Extremism and terrorism will be defeated in every corner of the country,” said Gen. Musharraf. Madrassas, or religious schools, like the Red Mosque that inculcate violence among students will not be tolerated, he said.

More than 1,200 people chanted slogans denouncing Gen. Musharraf after they emerged from mosques following afternoon prayers in Karachi, the country’s largest city.

In Quetta, about 200 protesters chanted “Long live Osama” and “Long live Taliban” as well as anti-Musharraf slogans. “It is an insult to dogs to call Musharraf a dog,” one man shouted out.

Small rallies were also held in Rawalpindi, Lahore, Peshawar and Islamabad.

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