Thousands of Islamists gathered Sunday in Pakistan's capital to mark the one-year anniversary of a deadly military crackdown on the radical Red Mosque.
More than 3,000 people, including about two dozen veiled women, gathered outside the mosque, known as "Lal Masjid," for a conference in remembrance of the eight-day siege.
Attendees included clerics and Islamist students who chanted "God is great!" and waved their fists. Many wore red prayer caps in apparent remembrance of Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the deputy cleric of the mosque who was killed in the operation and wore that color cap.
Armed police manned roadblocks nearby and traffic was diverted. Many streets around the mosque were blocked off with barbed wire.
The siege of the mosque was spurred after tension over an increasingly violent anti-vice campaign led by the mosque's administrators — including the kidnapping of alleged prostitutes — boiled over into gunbattles with security forces trying to restore government authority.
The government said 102 people, including 11 security personnel, were killed in the standoff that began July 3 last year. The siege seriously weakened the government's reputation among ordinary Pakistanis, many of whom believe far more people died, including women and children.
After the operation, authorities demolished the sprawling Jamia Hafsa girls' seminary next to the mosque, and the wasteland that is left still attracts people who pray for the souls of the dead. The once-red mosque has been repainted beige.
Supporters have been trying to re-establish the mosque's influence, and on Sunday many called for the release of Maulana Abdul Aziz, its chief cleric, who was arrested as he tried to flee the siege in a burqa, an all-encompassing women's veil.
Speakers sat at a large makeshift stage, and a sign hanging from a tree read, "Martyrs are saying to you 'Do not forget our blood.'"
Cleric Maulana Mujeebur Rehman said Ghazi died fighting for truth.
"God willing, we will continue our journey in the leadership of our elders," he said.
Ghazi's 12-year-old son, Haroonur Rashid, also addressed the conference, saying his father and other victims in the siege laid down their lives in their quest for Islamic law.
"I am also ready to sacrifice my life for Islamic law," he said.