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Christians protest after mob violence

15 March 2013


Aftermath: Christians demonstrate in Lahore on Sunday

Aftermath: Christians demonstrate in Lahore on Sunday

CHRISTIANS across Pakistan took to the streets on Sunday to demand improved security, after a mob set alight two churches, and more than 150 homes, in a Christian district of Lahore.

In Lahore, police used tear gas and fired into the air, in an attempt to disperse more than 1000 protesters who were calling for compensation for the arson attack, which began after a Christian was accused of profaning the prophet Muhammad. The demonstrators - some carrying large crucifixes - had blocked a highway, burned vehicles, smashed bus windows, and fought with baton-wielding police.

In Karachi, several hundred protesters stoned Muslim-owned shops. Smaller demonstrations were held in the capital, Islamabad, and the adjoining city of Rawalpindi. The Bishop of Peshawar, the Rt Revd Humphrey Sarfaraz Peter, led 2000 Christians on a march through the city. He said that a government offer of 200,000 rupees (£1350) compensation to each family was "eyewash".

Protests were also planned in the UK outside the Pakistani High Commission in London, and outside consulates in Bradford and Glasgow.

Police reports say that the original arson attack followed a drunken row last Friday between a Muslim and a Christian from the Joseph Colony district of Lahore. Later, a mob estimated at 3000 people went to the Christian man's home, accusing him of blasphemy. Police took him into custody to placate the crowd, but hundreds of Christian families fled the area overnight. The mob returned on Saturday, and ransacked houses.

A police official in Lahore, Rai Tahir, said that more than 150 Muslims had been arrested on suspicion of arson. The victims have dismissed the government's compensation offer, and have demanded one million rupees (£6750) each.

Akram Gill, Bishop of Pakistan in the Evangelical Friends of Christ Church, said that the incident had more to do with personal enmity between the two men than blasphemy. He said that the men got into a brawl after drinking late one night, and in the morning the Muslim man had made up the blasphemy story as payback. "Poor people were living here," he said. "They have lost all of their belongings. Where can they go now?"

The Pakistan Peoples Party re- signed from the Punjab provincial assembly of Pervaiz Rafiq, after accusing the Punjabi government of protecting extremists.

The Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Mervyn Thomas, said: "It is absolutely unacceptable that local police did not take more serious measures to prevent this entirely foreseeable violence."

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