03/03/2014, 00.00
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Pakistani Christians and civil society celebrate Shahbaz Bhatti as more violence strikes Islamabad

by Jibran Khan
Three years after his murder, hundreds of people pay tribute to the memory of Catholic minister. The memory of a politician in the forefront of the struggle for peace and religious harmony still alive. Among the most important goals the creation of the Ministry for National Harmony and the quota for minorities. Attack on a courthouse in the capital, 11 dead and 24 wounded.

Islamabad ( AsiaNews) - At least 11 people were killed and 24 people injured in an attack on the Islamabad Courthouse, in the capital of Pakistan . This morning, armed men broke into the building and opened fire, followed closely by two suicide bombers who detonated an explosive vests. The attack took place at 8:45 am local time and has not yet been claimed. A judge and several lawyers are among the victims, hospital sources report that 20 of the 24 injured are in critical condition. The attack had come after a weekend that had fueled optimism: the Taliban - engaged in peace talks with the government, so far without concrete results - announced a month long ceasefire, while the executive intends to suspend the air strikes against the militants' strongholds.

In a climate of violence and terror that has even reached the capital, yesterday civil society and the Christian community paid tribute to the memory of the "martyr" Shahbaz Bhatti, on the third anniversary of his assassination. The minister for religious minorities - in the previous government led by the Pakistan People's Party ( PPP) - was assassinated in Islamabad on March 2, 2011 , two months after the governor of Punjab Salman Taseer. He had come under fire from Islamic extremists for having requested an amendment to the blasphemy laws and defended Asia Bibi, the woman mother of five sentenced to death on the basis of the "black law" and awaiting her appeal for over four years.

Activists and faithful gathered around the monument dedicated to Bhatti, located in sector I8 / 3 Islamabad, the politician's local area. In addition to being the first Catholic to hold the post of minister in an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim country, he also distinguished himself in the field of activism and founded the Christian Liberation Front and the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) , today presided over by his brother, Paul, who has inherited his political and spiritual legacy.

Since his childhood, Shahbaz fought on the side of the marginalized and oppressed, alongside prestigious and influential figures of the Pakistani Christian community such as Bishop John Joseph and the army general Cecil Chaudhry. Despite the dangers and threats he received because if his political and institutional campaigns he never gave up his fight. Among the most important goals achieved in the course of his political career was the establishment of the ministry of national harmony , the representation of minorities in the Senate and the creation of a 5 % quota reserved for minorities in the public sector and in the state.

Yesterday morning the faithful celebrated a special mass in Khushpur, his native village (mainly Catholic) where hundreds paid homage to the Catholic politician and remembered his sacrifice in the service of his community. The ceremony was also attended by former colleagues and friends.

APMA leaders have instead organized a public ceremony in front of the memorial to Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad, during which was read a message of the current president Paul Bhatti where he stressed the importance of religious harmony. He has also called on the government, asking them to strengthen their commitment to peaceful coexistence, in a "crucial" period for the history of Pakistan. Finally, Paul assured those present he would want to continue - despite recent threats - the work of Shahbaz and APMA for "national harmony". Participants lit a candle in his memory and prayed in front of the monument dedicated to the minister. Robinson Asghar, a close associate of the Bhatti family, recalled the terrible moments of the attack, praised Shahbaz's political and social commitment and invited the community to pray and remain united.


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