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Pakistan mosque frees two policemen

PAKISTAN: Radical Islamic students freed two policemen from a hardline mosque in the Pakistani capital Thursday after holding them hostage for almost a week, an AFP reporter witnessed.

The Red Mosque in Islamabad seized four officers last Friday in retaliation for the detention of 11 students. Two of the policemen were freed the next day while the others were kept on.

The two policeman, wearing plain clothes, walked out accompanied by Abdul Rashid Ghazi, one of two brothers running the mosque, and were driven away in a white car. "We have released the two policemen on Islamic and humanitarian grounds because their relatives came to us with requests to free them," said Ghazi.

"We are not cruel people like the government. None of them contacted us for negotiations, nor did they release our remaining students," the cleric added.

The policemen said they had been well treated by their captors but were happy to go home.

"Both of us are very happy because we are going back home and will be able to spend time with our families," said officer Aurangzeb Awan.

"The attitude of the students was excellent. They did not misbehave with us during our stay at the mosque. They gave us good food and they provided us with a good environment."

He said they had been in touch with their families and with senior officers every day on their mobile phones.

Students from a separate religious school affiliated to the mosque briefly kidnapped three more policemen on Monday night. They released them hours later.

The Red Mosque's defiance in recent months has put pressure on President Pervez Musharraf to live up to his vow to tackle rising militancy in this Islamic republic of 160 million people.

Islamabad, Friday, AFP

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