Slain governor had opposed blasphemy law

Jan. 5, 2011 at 12:38 AM
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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Jan. 5 (UPI) -- The slain governor of Pakistan's Punjab province was allegedly assassinated by his own security guard for his liberal views, authorities said.

Gov. Salman Taseer, a critic of Pakistan's harsh and controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Tuesday at Kohsar Market in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. Authorities arrested his security guard.

The blasphemy law makes it a capital crime to insult Islam, the Koran or the Prophet Mohammed, and several efforts to remove it from the books have failed.

CNN quoted Islamabad police spokesman Naeem Iqbal as saying the guard, identified as Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, had confessed to the assassination as Taseer "did blasphemy of the Prophet Mohammed," and that the governor had described the blasphemy law as "the black laws."

The assassination comes as Pakistan is experiencing a wave of militant and sectarian violence and the country's fragile coalition democratic government remains shaky with the withdrawal of a partner from the main Pakistan People's Party to which Taseer belonged.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Taseer's death as a great loss, as he had promoted tolerance. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the assassination and said Taseer's death was a "loss for Pakistan."

The Associated Press of Pakistan news agency said Qadri surrendered immediately after the shooting.

CNN, quoting APP, said Taseer was leaving the market after lunching with a friend when he was killed. He was pronounced dead at a hospital. He had apparently been shot several times.

P.J. Mir, a Pakistani journalist and a friend of the governor, told CNN Taseer knew he was under threat because of his stance on the blasphemy law. Mir said Taseer "really felt for the people, felt for the people of all religions" and was not afraid to stand up for the downtrodden.

The BBC reported supporters of Taseer's PPP party held protests in Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city. A three-day mourning period has been declared in the country.

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