More than 50 militants and eight soldiers were killed whensecurity forces stormed the Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, yesterday aftermonths of rising tension and a week-long siege of the mosque andreligious school complex.
Troops were securing the last parts of the complex tosday and thedeath toll was expected to rise after soldiers combed the compound.
Heavy casualties, especially among women and children religiousstudents based at the compound, would be damaging for President PervezMusharraf, due to seek a second term as president later this year.
But early today, the military was saying no women and children were killed.
Newspapers -- many of which have been critical of Musharraf, whois also army chief, over his suspension of the country's top judge inMarch -- were generally supportive of the government.
''The decision to launch the final assault was not an easy one butgiven the circumstances, there was nothing else the government couldreally do,'' the News said in an editorial.
The Dawn newspaper said no tears would be shed for the well-armed militants.
''The responsibility for the death of the innocents and the traumaof those who have survived rests with the extremists who held hostagethose whom they had lured into the mosque for giving them lessons inIslam,'' the newspaper said.
The Lal Masjid's militant students launched a campaign in Januaryto impose strict Islamic law, raising alarm among many in theliberal-leaning capital.
They students mounted a vigilante anti-vice campaign, kidnappingwomen they accused of prostitution. They also threatened shops sellingWestern films and abducted policemen.
For months, authorities tried to appease the students, fearing tough action would only create more problems.
''The government's mistakes in the entire drama notwithstanding,one has to admit that it exercised the utmost restraint,'' the Dawnsaid.
''It kept talking... for months and used a variety of channels tofree the hostages and disarm the militants.'' Dawn said support for thecrackdown on ''the Lal Masjid brigade'' would strengthen thegovernment's position although it said there were still tough questionsto be answered.
''The government must... order an inquiry into why and how theintelligence agencies failed to get wind of the goings-on in the LalMasjid and the stockpiling of arms and ammunition.'' The Nationnewspaper said the death toll was ''frighteningly high''.
''It must be said in the government's favour, though, that it madepersistent attempts at getting the seminary vacated with a minimum lossof life, and did succeed to a large extent -- nearly 1,300 men, womenand children came out to surrender.'' ''It is now incumbent on theauthorities to contain the backlash,'' the Nation said, referring tofears enraged militants will unleash a wave of revenge attacks.