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Clerics: Pakistan Official's Hug a 'Sin'

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By SADAQAT JAN
The Associated Press
Tuesday, April 10, 2007; 12:18 AM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Islamic clerics at a radical mosque in Pakistan's capital have demanded the tourism minister be fired for hugging a foreign man, saying she committed a "great sin."

Minister of Tourism Nilofar Bakhtiar rejected the Taliban-style edict Monday and said her family and friends were concerned for her safety.

Two clerics at Islamabad's Red Mosque demanded her dismissal Sunday, two days after setting up a court to deliver Islamic justice in a bold challenge to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a U.S. ally who has promised to promote moderate Islam.

The mosque's chief cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, threatened last week to stage suicide attacks if authorities tried to raid the mosque.

Photos in the Pakistani media have shown Bakhtiar being helped by a male instructor during a charity parachute jump in France last month to raise money for victims of the devastating October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan. Another picture shows a woman _ apparently Bakhtiar _ hugging the instructor.

This was "an illegitimate and forbidden act," the clerics said in their edict, or fatwa.

"Without any doubt, she has committed a great sin," the fatwa said. It declared that Muslim women must stay at home and must not venture out uncovered.

The fatwa demanded that Bakhtiar be fired, given another unspecified punishment and that her family "force her to ask for forgiveness so that she does not repeat this un-Islamic act."

Bakhtiar called the edict "baseless" and accused Pakistani newspapers of publishing "distorted" captions with the pictures. She said she had jumped without any previous training and her French instructor had just given her a pat.

"It was just a pat because he felt so proud of me," Bakhtiar said. "I felt very happy also because it was affectionate and very encouraging."

The Red Mosque's hardline clerics _ long alleged to have ties with militants _ have started a Taliban-style anti-vice campaign in defiance of state authority in the relatively liberal Pakistani capital.

They have warned nearby video and music shop owners to close their businesses and abducted a woman and her relatives for allegedly running a brothel, forcing her to make a public confession.

On Friday, the clerics announced the establishment of an Islamic court and gave the government a one-month ultimatum to close brothels and video shops.

Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz were briefed about the Red Mosque on Monday, the state Associated Press of Pakistan news agency said.

"The two leaders directed that strict measures be taken to enforce the law," the agency reported, without elaborating.

The government has said it wants to resolve the situation through negotiations, amid concerns that a confrontation at the mosque could lead to bloodshed. Seminaries associated with the mosque have thousands of students.

The chief of Pakistan's ruling party, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, held talks with the mosque's leaders over the weekend.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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