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Row over demolitions

Nirupama Subramanian

ISLAMABAD: The stand-off over the forcible occupation of a public library by students of a women's madrassa here continues with the administrator of the religious school saying on Saturday he had broken off negotiations with the Government because of its "disinterest."

On Friday night, the Government massed troops and police around the Jamia Hafsa seminary, the public library, and the Lal Masjid next to forcibly evict the women from the library.

Call for Islamic law

The students took over the library more than two weeks ago in protest against the demolition of two mosques that the city authority said were illegal and encroached on public land. As many as 80 other mosques and madrassas, including the women's seminary, have received a demolition notice.

The women refuse to vacate the library, sandwiched between the mosque and the seminary, unless the Government takes back all demolition orders and rebuilds the mosques brought down in January. They are also demanding that Islamic law be enforced in Pakistan.

The stand-off is yet another challenge for the Musharraf government and is being seen as a test case of how it deals with anti-government religious forces.

Abdurrashid Ghazi, a prominent cleric who runs the seminary, said the deployment of security personnel "vitiated the atmosphere" for negotiations.

A government negotiator had earlier expressed hope of an early and peaceful resolution, but Mr. Ghazi announced a "boycott" of the negotiations and refused to take calls from Minister for Religious Affairs Ejaz ul Haq.

The issue came up for discussion in the National Assembly earlier this week. A ruling party parliamentarian criticised the Government for failing to enforce the law. A Minister informed the House that Jamia Hafsa and Lal Masjid were occupying one acre of public land, and that the Government, if necessary, was prepared to use force.

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