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Russia praises Pakistan's handling of mosque standoff

MOSCOW, July 13 (RIA Novosti) - Russia hopes that Pakistan's political and religious groups will pool their efforts in the fight against terrorism following the recent Red Mosque siege in Islamabad, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday.

"We expect Pakistan's political and religious leaders to display solidarity in the face of the challenge issued by terrorists," Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement posted on the ministry's official Web site.

He said Russia resolutely condemns terror in all forms and practices, adding that the use of troops against Islamic militants at the Red Mosque was a forced measure, designed to save innocent lives.

The Pakistani Army began withdrawing Thursday from Islamabad after completing a 36-hour operation to retake the mosque, seized and held by Islamic radicals for a week.

About 1,000 Taliban-inspired students barricaded themselves in the mosque, a hotbed of Islamic radicalism in Pakistan's capital, July 3, following clashes with government troops. The students had been demanding the Pakistani authorities promote stricter Islamic values in the country.

Pakistani officials said a few days later that the students were holding women and children inside the mosque. About 1,200 people left the building July 5 and several more, including two female students, surrendered at dawn the following day.

Officially, 73 Islamic radicals and 10 servicemen died during the army assault that began Tuesday. However, local media put the death toll far higher. The Frontier Post newspaper cited anonymous sources as saying that over 500 students died, including many women.

The authorities denied the figure, and also dismissed a statement by Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the radicals spiritual leader, who was killed during the fighting, that extremists had buried dozens of people during the siege.

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