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March 10, 2013 at 8:28 AM
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Alleged blasphemy triggers fiery rampage

LAHORE, Pakistan, March 10 (UPI) -- A Muslim mob looted and torched more than 175 homes of Christians in Lahore, Pakistan, in a rampage triggered by allegations of blasphemy, witnesses said.

The violence, involving thousands of people, broke out Friday after a man accused a Christian, Sawan Masih, of making offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad and defiling pages from the Koran, the News International reported.

The newspaper said Masih and the man who accused him of blasphemy, Shahid Imran, were once drinking buddies who had their businesses in the same market. Other shopkeepers said the two had been feuding for some time, however.

One unidentified woman told the Pakistani newspaper members of the mob showed up at her home and ransacked it before dousing her household items with gasoline and setting them on fire.

"They torched the houses of many such people who had nothing to do with the incident," she said.

Another witness said the attackers set many houses ablaze, vandalized vehicles and threw rocks at police. Several officers suffered injuries, the newspaper said.

Police fired tear-gas shells and engaged in a baton-charge to disperse the mob, but the protesters regrouped and went after the houses of Christians, the newspaper said.

Firefighters spent hours putting out the blazes, with some sustaining injuries.

President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf both called for an investigation of the incident.

Zardari said the government would safeguard the rights of all citizens regardless of their religion, and that violence against minorities tarnishes the country's image.

"The Christians are equal citizens of the land and must be given complete protection. Islam teaches tolerance and assures protection to life and property of non-Muslims," Ashraf said.

Falkland Islanders vote on sovereignty

STANLEY, Falkland Islands, March 10 (UPI) -- Falkland Islands's voters Sunday began voting in a referendum asking whether they want to remain a territory of the United Kingdom.

The question put to voters is: "Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?," CNN reported.

Argentina and the United Kingdom have been disputing sovereignty of the islands known in Argentina as Las Malvinas, since Britons landed there in 1833.

The British government supports the referendum while the Argentinian Embassy in London said in a statement Friday that the vote had no legitimacy and was "a further attempt by the British to manipulate the question of the Malvinas Islands."

"The United Kingdom has no right to alter the legal status of these territories, not even under the guise of a hypothetical 'referendum,'" Argentina said.

Britain maintains the islanders have chosen to be British and "have a right to self-determination as enshrined in the U.N. Charter," a January statement said.

The statement added: "There are three parties to this debate, not just two as Argentina likes to pretend. The islanders can't just be written out of history. As such, there can be no negotiations on the sovereignty of the Falklands Islands unless and until such time as the islanders so wish."

Meanwhile, people living on the islands asked to choose their own sovereignty.

"The Falkland Islanders are a peaceful, hard-working and resilient people. Our society is thriving and forward-looking. All we ask is to be left in peace to choose our own future, and responsibly develop our home for our children and generations to come," the islands' government said.

Voting on the issue will continue Monday.

Fire kills seven people in Germany

BACKNANG, Germany, March 10 (UPI) -- A fire in Backnang, Germany, early Sunday claimed the lives of six children and one adult, officials said.

The fire started in an apartment complex in the downtown area of Backnang around 4:30 a.m., Bild newspaper reported.Several shops also caught fire.

The inferno killed seven people -- one adult and six children -- police said. Several other people were slightly injured in the fire.

Property damage was estimated to be more than $100,000, the newspaper said.

The Criminal Investigation Department was trying to determine the cause of the blaze, Bild said.

Netanyahu: principles for new government agreed upon

JERUSALEM, March 10 (UPI) -- The fundamental principles for a new government have been agreed upon, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in Jerusalem Sunday.

Netanyahu told the last cabinet meeting of the outgoing government that negotiations to form a new coalition will focus on ministerial portfolios, Israel Radio said.

Israel Radio, The Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post reported Netanyahu is expected to announce the forming of the new government on Tuesday. Ynetnews.com said the prime minister is expected to make the announcement on Wednesday.

In the past four years, the outgoing government achieved more of its aims than any government in the history of the State, the prime minister said, and "brought Israel to a position where it is more secure and prosperous," The Jerusalem Post reported.

Shas ministers boycotted the cabinet meeting to protest their exclusion from the coalition, The Times of Israel said.

The new government will face "tremendous" security challenges, Netanyahu said, adding they were "piling around us, and we will of course need to deal with that in the next government," The Post reported. The new government will also need to address the cost of living and housing and equalize the military and tax burden, the prime minister said.

President Shimon Peres last Sunday granted Netanyahu a two-week extension to form the new government, a result of the Jan. 22 elections.

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