Hardliners rally against Pope across Pakistan''s Punjab

M Zulqernain

Lahore, Jan 14 (PTI) Hardline religious parties andextremist groups, including the Jamaat-ud-Dawah, organisedrallies across Punjab province today to protest PopeBenedict''s call for the repeal of Pakistan''s controversialblasphemy law.

The rallies were organised under the banner of theTehrik Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat, an alliance of Islamistgroups opposed to any move to repeal or amend the blasphemylaw.

Members of the JuD, Sunni Tehrik, Jamaat-e-Islami,Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl joinedthe protests.

Speaking outside the JuD''s headquarters at Chauburjiin Lahore, its leader Hafiz Saifullah Mansoor criticised thePope for supporting Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced todeath last year for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

Mansoor alleged that when an American priest hadannounced plans to desecrate the Quran, the Pope and theWestern world did nothing to stop him.

Abdur Rehman Makki, another senior JuD leader, saidthe Pope''s statement amounted to interference in Pakistan''sinternal affairs.

He warned the government not to yield to "foreignpressure" and said the rulers would be held responsible ifAsia Bibi is allowed to flee the country.

The protestors carried banners and placards inscribedwith slogans against the Pope and in favour of the blasphemylaw.

They also shouted slogans against the Pope, the US andIsrael.

Senior Jamaat-e-Islamai leader Sirajul Haq said thePope''s demand had hurt the feelings of the Muslim world.

He warned Pakistan''s rulers that the people wouldorganise a march to Islamabad if any move is made to amend theprovisions of the blasphemy law.

Amir Ameerul Azeem, another Jamaat-e-Islami leader,criticised the government for showing "cowardice" in handlingthe case of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who was given along prison term in America following her conviction on terrorcharges.

Azeem claimed Pakistan''s rulers had not spoken out forSiddiqui but were sympathising with a woman convicted forblasphemy.

He asked the government to lodge a protest against thePope''s statement and said a bill seeking amendments to theblasphemy law should be withdrawn from parliament.

He also said a "grand rally" would be organised inLahore on January 30 to "compel the rulers not to play withthe sentiments of Muslims".

Salmaan Taseer, a senior leader of the PakistanPeople''s Party and the Governor of Punjab, was recently gunneddown by a police guard who said he was angered by thepolitician''s criticism of the blasphemy law.

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