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Pakistan hangs the killer of Iranian diplomat

By
AAMIR SHAH

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Feb 28 -- Pakistan hanged Wednesday a Muslim militant who was convicted 10 years ago of killing an Iranian diplomat.

Huq Nawaz, an activist of the extremist Sipah-i-Sahaba party, was executed in Mianwali jail in the central Punjab province, police said. He was convicted of killing Sadiq Ganji, director of the Iranian cultural center in Lahore.

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Fearing a violent reaction, Pakistan's military government had deployed thousands of police and militiamen across the country. Armored personnel carriers were guarding all entrances to Mianwali while troops in combat-gear patrolled the streets.

Police had arrested several hundred Sipah-e-Sahaba supporters by Tuesday evening to prevent widescale protests over the execution. Paramilitary troops were also deployed outside major mosques to prevent clashes between the majority Sunni and the minority Shiite Muslim sects.

Sipah-i-Sahaba is a Sunni extremist group while Ganji, like most Iranians, was a Shiite. Hundreds of people have died in clashes between the Sunni and Shiite extremists since Ganji's murder in 1990.

Nawaz was sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court 10 years ago for shooting Ganji. Pakistan's Supreme Court also upheld the judgment, and on Tuesday, President Rafique Tarar rejected his mercy petition.

Ganji was the first prominent Shi'a Muslim from Iran to be killed in Pakistan. Since then, several Iranians Shi'as have been murdered in sectarian attacks that have been blamed on the hardline Sunni Sepa-e-Sahaba party.

Although Iran has been a traditional ally of Pakistan, the sectarian violence has at times severely strained Islamabad's relations with Tehran.

"We have decided not to tolerate violence and religious militancy. We want to restore peace and law and order," said Pakistan's interior minister Moinuddin Haider who earlier this month ordered police to collect weapons from the extremists, authorizing them to shoot those who resist.

Wary of the increasing influence of Muslim extremists in the country and its negative impact on Pakistan's international image, Islamabad also has prevented religious groups from collecting funds in the name of jihad, or holy war.

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