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Sunday, 7 October, 2001, 19:40 GMT 20:40 UK
Pakistan radical leader released
Maulana Fazlur Rehman at rally in Rawalpindi on Friday
Maulana Fazlur Rehman: Takes hard line against US
The leader of a Pakistani religious party with close links to the Taleban regime in Afghanistan has been released from house arrest, regional authorities have said.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, from the radical Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) party had been put under arrest on Sunday to prevent him from holding an anti-American rally, authorities in the North West Frontier Province said.

Mr Rehman said public pressure had forced his release.


This is the result of the government's nervousness and is an attempt to give false reassurance to America

Maulana Fazlur Rehman
Mr Rehman has repeatedly called for the seizure of any military bases which might be used by American forces to attack Afghanistan.

He and his supporters have held regular nationwide demonstrations in an attempt to force a change in government policy.

'Nervousness'

Pakistan's military leader President Pervez Musharraf has promised support for the US war on terror following the 11 September suicide attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.

Both the JUI and the Taleban are dominated by Pashtuns, an ethnic group which straddles the Pakistani-Afghan border.

"At about 0530 (0030 GMT) when I came out for morning prayers I was told that I can't go out. I was not given any written order," Mr Rehman said.

"This is the result of the government's nervousness and is an attempt to give false reassurance to America," he added.

Pakistani militants hold anti-US demonstration
Pakistan had claimed the rallies were insignificant

Mr Rehman, the first prominent pro-Taleban supporter to be detained in Pakistan, had been due to address a rally in the central city of Multan in Punjab province on Sunday.

It went ahead, with about 6,000 people taking to the streets chanting "death to America" and calling for a jihad, or holy war.

Yet while JUI has strong support among Pakistan's extremist right, its electoral support is negligible.

Pakistan's 33 religious parties between them have never taken more than five per cent of the vote in an election.

Government concern

Until now the Pakistani Government has insisted that the rallies organised by the JUI and other Islamic-based parties were small-scale and insignificant.

But the BBC's correspondent in Pakistan said Mr Rehman's detention indicated that the military regime in Islamabad was concerned by the Islamists.

Mr Musharraf has been trying to balance anti-US sentiment amongst some Pakistanis, while recognising the need to side with the global coalition and its "war on terrorism".

Meanwhile, military officials have announced that Mr Musharraf's tenure as chief of army staff has been extended.

He already holds the post of president, but his three-year term as army chief was due to run out on Sunday. The officials did not say how long Mr Musharraf will remain head of the army.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Susannah Price reports from Islamabad
says the arrest may make the current tension in the area worse
See also:

02 Oct 01 | South Asia
Bin Laden named in anti-US plots
02 Oct 01 | South Asia
Quetta protest draws thousands
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Karachi protest against US
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Pakistan's tough choice
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