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Pakistan Christian leader mourned

The body of a Christian politician, killed for opposing Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, has arrived in his home village for burial.

In the capital Islamabad, the prime minister promised mourners at a funeral Mass that the government would do its "utmost" to bring the assassins to justice.

Shahbaz Bhatti, the sole Christian government minister in Pakistan, was shot dead on Wednesday after being threatened for opposing laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.

He became the second Pakistani politician killed in two months over the matter, and his death underscored the perils facing a government that is increasingly weak in the face of rising Islamist extremism.

Thousands of people flooded the road in Khushpur, a Christian-dominated village of around 10,000 people in eastern Punjab province, chanting slogans demanding justice as Mr Bhatti's body was driven toward his modest family home in an ambulance covered with rose petals.

Pakistan's prime minister visited an overflow crowd of mourners at a Catholic church in Islamabad to praise the late 42-year-old minister for minority affairs, a man many have described as gentle, humble and devoted to helping Pakistan's downtrodden religious minorities.

"People like him, they are very rare," Yousuf Raza Gilani said. "I assure you, we will try our utmost to bring the culprits to justice."

Mr Gilani did not specifically mention Islamist extremists though he has issued statements denouncing them in recent days. He also avoided mentioning the blasphemy laws, which rights groups have long deplored as vague and misused to persecute minorities or settle rivalries.

Christians are the largest religious minority in Pakistan, where 95% of the country's 180 million people are Muslim.

Mr Bhatti and Punjab province Governor Salman Taseer both criticised the blasphemy laws after a Christian woman was sentenced to death under them last year. On January 4, Mr Taseer was shot dead by one of his bodyguards, who said he was angry about the governor's stance on the laws.


From Belfast Telegraph