A Pakistan government minister warned armed militants holed up in a radical mosque in Islamabad to surrender or face punishment by security forces.
The order today came a day after gun battles left at least nine people dead.
The bloodshed has added to a sense of crisis in Pakistan, where President General Pervez Musharraf already faces emboldened militants near the Afghan border and a pro-democracy movement triggered by his botched attempt to fire the country’s chief justice.
After a meeting of top officials including Musharraf, deputy interior minister Zafar Warriach said the government had imposed an immediate curfew on the area around Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque.
He set no deadline for the militant followers of the mosque’s hardline clerics to lay down their weapons, but said authorities had finally run out of patience after a six-month standoff.
“We ask them to surrender and lay down their arms. No action will be taken against those who do it,” he said, adding that anyone armed “will be answered with bullets”.
Despite the curfew and a cease-fire announced earlier, sporadic gunfire rang out into the early hours of yesterday near the mosque.