tampabay.com

Minister won't step down after embrace

A resignation prompted by clerics' rebuke is withdrawn.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 25, 2007


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan's tourism minister withdrew her resignation after government leaders reassured her of their support in the face of condemnation from radical Islamic clerics for hugging a foreign man, a senior official said Thursday.

The court at Islamabad's Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, said last month that Nilofar Bakhtiar engaged in un-Islamic behavior after a newspaper published a photograph of her embracing her parachute instructor in France after making a charity jump.

Bakhtiar offered to quit the Cabinet during the three-month standoff between authorities and clerics at the mosque. She said that President Pervez Musharraf's government, which critics accuse of appeasing religious extremists, gave her too little public support.

However, a spokesman for the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid party confirmed reports that Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and party chairman Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain had talked her into staying.

"Both leaders managed to convince her that her complaint was not justified and therefore it would be in the party's interest and her own interest that she resumes her work, " spokesman Tariq Azeem said.

Bakhtiar could not be reached for comment.

Also on Thursday in Pakistan:

- Muslim radicals freed two police officers who were abducted May 18 amid their drive to enforce a harsh interpretation of Islamic law that has raised alarm about the spread of religious extremism. Abdul Rashid Ghazi said the men were freed "in the spirit of Islamic brotherhood and humanity" after pleas from their relatives. He denied that the release had anything to do with the gathering threat of a police raid and said his followers could abduct more police in future.

"There is no fear of any kind, " the white-bearded cleric said. The release eased some of the pressure building from a four-month-old confrontation between authorities and the clerics, whose male and female student followers have launched a Taliban-style moral policing campaign that has included threats to music stores and the abduction of an alleged brothel owner.

- Thousands of President Musharraf's opponents demonstrated in several Pakistani cities, the first street protests since a burst of political violence deepened a crisis clouding his plans to stay in power. About 3, 000 lawyers, opposition activists and civil rights campaigners gathered for about an hour in the center of the eastern city of Lahore, chanting "Musharraf, go!" and calling for the restoration of democracy. They carried banners reading, "The chief justice is the only truth in Pakistan" in defense of the head of the Supreme Court, whose suspension provoked the crisis that has become the biggest challenge to Musharraf's eight-year rule.

Political parties who have been sidelined since Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup say he wanted to get rid of the independent-minded judge in anticipation of legal challenges to his intention of seeking another five-year term while remaining head of the army.