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 Assassinated Pak minister wanted change in blasphemy laws

Pakistan minorities minister shot dead in Islamabad

ISLAMABAD: Gunmen shot and killed the Christian Pakistani government minister for religious minorities on Wednesday, the latest attack on a high-profile figure threatened by Muslim militants for urging reform of harsh blasphemy laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.

The killing of Shahbaz Bhatti further undermines Pakistan's shaky image as a moderate Islamic state and could deepen the political turmoil in this nuclear-armed, US-allied state whose economy subsists on international loans and where militants frequently stage suicide attacks.

In January, Punjab province Gov Salman Taseer was killed by a bodyguard who said he was angry that the politician opposed the blasphemy laws. To the horror of Pakistan besieged liberals, many ordinary Pakistanis praised the assassin -- a sign of the spread of hardline Islamist thought in the country.

Bhatti, the sole Christian member of the federal Cabinet, was on his way to work in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, when unknown gunmen riddled his car with bullets, police officer Mohmmad Iqbal said. The minister arrived dead at Shifa Hospital, hospital spokesman Asmatullah Qureshi said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but pamphlets were found at the scene of the killing that were attributed to the Pakistani Taliban warning of the same fate for anyone opposing the blasphemy laws.

Pakistani Christians reeled from the loss of their most prominent advocate. Christians are the largest religious minority in the country, where roughly 5 per cent of 180 million people are not Muslim.

"We have been orphaned today!" wailed Rehman Masih, a Christian Pakistani resident of Islamabad. "Now who will fight for our rights? Who will raise a voice for us? Who will help us?"

Gulam Rahim was coming from a nearby market when he saw Bhatti's car drive out of his house. Three men standing nearby with guns suddenly began firing at the vehicle, a dark-coloured Toyota.

Two of the men opened the door and tried to pull Bhatti out, Rahim said, while a third man fired his Kalashnikov rifle repeatedly into the car. The three gunmen then sped away in a white Suzuki Mehran car, said Rahim who took shelter behind a tree.

 2011/3/2 13:04

 Re: Assassinated Pak minister wanted change in blasphemy laws

The same news at persecution website.

 2011/3/2 13:20

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