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Suicide Bomber Strikes Near Islamabad's Red Mosque

Religious students demonstrating today in Islamabad (AFP) July 27, 2007 -- Reports from Islamabad say a suicide bomber blew himself up close to a group of police officers today near the Red Mosque. Initial reports say up to 10 people were killed, including at least one police officer, and 15 were injured.

The explosion occurred after police fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse hundreds of hard-line Islamist students who have occupied the Red Mosque compound and are demanding the return of its jailed pro-Taliban cleric.

Security forces outside of the Red Mosque have been reinforced by troops in riot gear and an armored personnel carrier after demonstrators earlier today chased away police and blocked a government-appointed cleric from leading Friday prayers.

Reopening Disrupted

Authorities were attempting to reopen the Red Mosque today after an assault against militants there by Pakistani troops on July 10 that killed more than 100 people.

Some protesters climbed to the rooftop of the mosque and raised Islamic flags. Others painted the outer walls in their original red color -- replacing the peach color used when the mosque was repainted after the deadly assault.

Security forces outside of the Red Mosque have been reinforced by troops in riot gear and an armored personnel carrier.

Workers in the past two weeks have plastered over bullet holes in the walls and repaired damage to the minarets at what had been a pro-Taliban place of worship.

The July 10 assault sparked protests across the country.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has defended the storming of the Red Mosque, saying it was "inevitable" because the mosque had functioned as a center for extremism.

The assault followed failed talks with cleric Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the leader of the weeklong siege who was shot dead in the raid.

Provincial Official Slain

Meanwhile, in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province today, unidentified gunmen killed a provincial government spokesman.

Authorities say spokesman Raziq Bugti was shot dead in the city of Quetta as he was driving to his home.

Police said they were unsure if the killing was related to the violent backlash seen in Pakistan since the July 10 raid on the Red Mosque.

(AP, Reuters, AFP)

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