03/03/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN

Assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti: three days of mourning, Pakistani Church on strike

Jibran Khan
The bishops underline their "profound grief" over the loss of "a statesman" who fought for Interreligious Dialogue and against the blasphemy law. Anglican Church united in mourning. The Pakistani president and the PML-N condemn the assassination. Christians in prayer before the minister's house, chanting slogans and hymns.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) - Hundreds of Christians are gathering in front of the house Shahbaz Batthi, the Minister for Minorities murdered in cold blood yesterday by a group of Pakistani Taliban. The Catholic Church of Pakistan has announced three days of mourning and strikes to protest the murder of the statesman. In a public statement the bishops' conference stresses their "profound grief" over the loss of a "patriotic man of state", who always fought for "inter-religious harmony." The Anglican Bishop of Lahore Alexander John Malik, has also joined the initiative condemning the murder in no uncertain terms. Condolences were also expressed by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

Christians are still in shock over the brutal execution of Shahbaz Bhatti, the first Catholic parliamentarian to have assumed the post of federal minister. He fought in defense of religious freedom, along with Salman Taseer - who was also killed in cold blood by fundamentalists – and defended the cause of Asia Bibi, the 45 year old Christian mother sentenced to death on blasphemy charges.

Meanwhile, controversy is mounting over the security detail designed to protect the minister. The police chief of Islamabad rejects the accusations, stressing that it was Bhatti himself who did not want the police escort in his house. According to the official, the minister had ordered that the security officers wait at his office every day. The execution, with 30 rounds shot from a firearm, was carried out on the street on his way to work.

As part of the three days of mourning and protest announced by the Church, all institutions, schools, activities run by Catholics will be closed starting today. The strike will be marked by moments of prayer and fasting. Meanwhile hundreds of people - especially Christians – have gathered around Bhatti’s house, located in I-8 / 3 Islamabad, chanting slogans and songs including "Bhatti, your blood is the beginning of a new revolution ... We will continue your battle for the repeal of the blasphemy law. " The Anglican Church of Pakistan has also joined the days of mourning and prayer, as confirmed by the Bishop of Lahore Alexander John Malik. Even Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have expressed their disapproval of the brutal murder.

In the statement, signed by the Archbishop of Lahore Mgr. Lawrence John Saldanha, the Catholic Bishops' Conference expressed "deep sorrow" for the death of Bhatti, which highlights the most urgent "issue of protecting religious minorities, life and freedom." The bishops urged the government "to move beyond the rhetoric of" rights for all and to "take concrete steps" to eradicate extremism in Pakistan. The President of the bishops expressed "solidarity with the family" and condemned in no uncertain terms "the abuses committed in the name of religion" in the country.

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