Gilani attends memorial service for slain minister

Yousuf Raza Gilani
Islamabad, Mar 4: Pakistan Premier Yousuf Raza Gilani on Friday,Mar 4 paid homage to slain Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti at a memorial service at a church attended by scores of people, as Christians protested for the second straight day against his killing and demanded arrest of his assassins.

During the memorial service at the heavily-guarded Fatima Church here, Gilani stood silently and offered prayers for Bhatti, the only Christian member of his Cabinet who was shot dead by Taliban militants on Wednesday for opposing the controversial blasphemy law.

Apart from Bhatti's family, the service was attended by several federal ministers, parliamentarians, foreign envoys, including the US Ambassador and British High Commissioner besides leading members of the minority Christian community.

A large number of Christians, who had gathered outside the church, condemned Bhatti's assassination as they offered prayers for him.

They asked the community members to protest peacefully against Bhatti's killing and demanded that the government should conduct a speedy probe into the incident and punish his killers.

Bhatti, 42, was assassinated by Taliban militants a short distance from his home in Islamabad on Wednesday. The banned Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing, saying Bhatti was assassinated for challenging the blasphemy law.

Bhatti's body will be buried at his native village of Khushpur in Faisalabad in Punjab province. The body will be flown in a helicopter to Khushpur, where another memorial service will be conducted at a church.

Black flags flew over most homes in Khushpur and banners across the village condemned his killing. People organised protests and demanded the arrest of Bhatti's killers. The protesters, including dozens of women, marched in procession in Khushpur and Faisalabad.

Protests against the assassination were organised for the second day today in Faisalabad, Sargodha, Multan and Hyderabad.

During a debate on Bhatti's assassination in the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament, Jamshed Dasti, a lawmaker of the ruling PPP, joined the opposition in criticising the functioning of Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

Dasti said if he had been the Interior Minister, he would have quit after Bhatti's assassination. Any politician would have quit the post after such an incident, he said.


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