Islamabad : Eleven people, including seven policemen, were confirmed killed and many injured in an explosion Friday near the Lal Masjid in the Pakistani capital, Xinhua news agency reported.
The powerful blast took place at a market near the mosque when hundreds of people gathered around Lal Masjid in protest against the recent government operation there, it quoted Dawn News TV channel as saying.
Some religious activists who came to Lal Masjid Friday turned furious and clashed with police. Some people pelted stones at policemen and a number of people remained inside the mosque, painting the mosque red again. The government had painted the mosque white earlier this week.
Security forces deployed around the mosque fired tear gas at the protesters.People refused to offer prayers under the leadership of a new government-appointed Khateeb at the mosque, the News Network International (NNI) was quoted by Xinhua as saying.
The people chanted anti-government slogans in protest and demanded that Maulana Abdul Aziz, the former chief of Lal Masjid who is under arrest, be brought back to the mosque to lead the prayers, according to the NNI report. The new cleric, Mohammad Ashfaq, was led out of the mosque safely.
State-run PTV quoted Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao as saying that the government was handling the situation with restraint. He said the government wanted people to offer prayer peacefully but some elements indulged in hooliganism which was a condemnable act.
DPA adds: Earlier, the supporters of Aziz had taken over inside Lal Masjid soon after the mosque reopened to the public three weeks after violent clashes erupted there between security forces and Islamic militants July 3, which climaxed with the July 10-11 commando assault that left over 100 people dead.
Islamists in the mosque's main hall turned the Friday mid-day prayers into an angry protest demonstration as soon as a cleric began to make the call to prayer at around 12:35 p.m. local time.
Some protesters flew Islamic flags after climbing onto the rooftop of the mosque that donned a new look with freshly plastered exterior, painted in a paler shade of white to replace the red from which the mosque drew its name.
They also started to repaint the mosque in its original colour while one of them inscribed "Lal Masjid" on its front face, as authorities had installed a roadside signboard identifying it as Central Mosque G-6, the code name of the neighbourhood.
The government had renovated the mosque after the July 10-11 operation. The children's library adjacent to the mosque was pulled down Wednesday, while demolition of Lal Masjid's affiliated seminary Jamia Hafsa is underway.
The protesters and other worshippers were allowed entry into the mosque after being frisked by police, who had cordoned off all access points leading to the Lal Masjid.
But police retreated after the protest began.
Security forces were on high alert in Islamabad with intelligence reports of possible suicide bombings by militants.
Pakistan has witnessed a surge in attacks on security forces since the mosque siege, with extremists calling to avenge the deaths of "innocent sisters, brothers and sons".