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Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 13:03 UK

Women in Pakistan mosque protest

Women outside the Red Mosque
The women shouted slogans in support of jihad

Hundreds of Islamist women have held a protest outside the Red Mosque in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, to demand the reconstruction of a seminary.

It was destroyed in July 2007 when Pakistani troops stormed the building to evict armed militants.

The protesters - some carrying babies - shouted slogans in support of jihad (holy war) and heard fiery speeches.

More than 100 people were killed in the fighting to evict militants who had taken sanctuary there, the army said.

'Jihad'

"Our mujahideen [fighters] laid down their lives for the enforcement of the Islamic system in Pakistan. We are left behind to carry forward their mission," Umme Hassan, the daughter of former chief cleric Abdul Aziz, told the rally within the mosque's compound.

He was arrested during the siege last year as he tried to evade capture by slipping through a police cordon dressed as a woman.

Red Mosque
Many people died when the mosque was stormed a year ago

The burka-clad women responded to the speech with chants such as "jihad is our way!"

They say that they will continue to hold their classes in the open at the side of the seminary until it is rebuilt.

The first anniversary of the storming of the mosque is on 10 July. A similar protest by several thousand men was held on Sunday.

Shortly after the rally ended, a suicide bomber attacked police who had been guarding the gathering killing 18 people, all but three of them policemen.

Correspondents says that Wednesday's protest was mostly peaceful despite the fiery rhetoric of Umme Hassan.

"We should prepare our children and men for jihad," she said.

The crowd responded by chanting of "we are ready" and "al jihad".

Mr Aziz's brother, deputy mosque leader Abdul Rashid Ghazi, was killed when the compound was stormed.

The raid on the mosque triggered a series of revenge suicide bombings and other attacks by militants across Pakistan, killing hundreds of people.

The mosque has long had a reputation for radicalism, mostly attracting hard-line Islamic students from North West Frontier Province and tribal areas where support for the Taleban and al-Qaeda is strong.

The Jamia Hafsa madrassa, a religious school for women, is attached to the mosque and a male madrassa is nearby. Several thousand students are housed at the two seminaries despite the damage from the fighting of last July.

The mosque has been the centre of a hard-line Islamic student movement which has been vocal in its criticism of government policies.

In past years, it has often been favoured by the city's elite, including prime ministers, army chiefs and presidents.

In July 2005, Pakistani security forces tried to raid the mosque following suicide bombings earlier that month in London, but were turned back by baton-wielding women students.



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