02/12/2011, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Islamabad confirms Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti as Minister for minorities

by Jibran Khan
Government reshuffle took place yesterday. Bhatti has struggled in recent years to amend the blasphemy law and has recently requested a pardon for Asia Bibi.

 Islamabad (AsiaNews) - President Asif Ali Zardari confirms Shahbaz Bhatti as Minister of minorities, after the cabinet reshuffle that took place yesterday following the resignation of the staff of the federal cabinet presented in recent days by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani.

Bhatti, who is a Catholic, was the first parliamentarian to take up the post of Minister for Minorities. His Christian predecessors were offered only minor portfolios. In recent years he has fought to amend the blasphemy law and has recently launched an initiative to seek pardon for Asia Bibi. In fact because of his positions Bhatti has received death threats from Islamic extremist groups that still do not want to change the law. Bhatti told AsiaNews: "I thank God for giving me this opportunity to continue my struggle for the oppressed minorities in Pakistan." "Christians and other minorities - he adds - are citizens of Pakistan and have the same rights as any other citizen, because our ancestors sacrificed their lives for this country".

According to sources close to the presidency, the government has confirmed Bhatti only after strong pressure from the international community concerned about the recent cases of violence against minorities because of the blasphemy law. A young Christian man was killed in recent days in Ghakkar Mandi (Punjab), while Asia Bibi, the young Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy who is still waiting for her appeal to be heard in the Court of Lahore.

Bishop Anthony Rufin of Islamabad emphasizes that confirmation of Bhatti "is a positive sign for the minorities." The bishop hopes that the minister will help the government to realize the increasing oppression of Christians and Hindus and followers of other religions, often forced to leave the country in order to survive.

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