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Pakistan's law minister resigns amid anti-blasphemy protests

By Ed Adamczyk
Pakistan's law minister resigns amid anti-blasphemy protests
Zahid Hamid, Pakistani law minister, resigned on Monday in an attempt to quell anti-blasphemy protests that have rocked the country. Image courtesy of Pakistan Ministry of Law and Justice

Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Pakistan's federal law minister resigned Monday to quell protests against a perceived weakening of the country's anti-blasphemy laws.

Zahid Hamid left his position to "steer the country out of the prevailing critical situation," he said. His resignation was accepted by the Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Abbasi.

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A recent change in a Pakistani electoral oath, in which the Prophet Muhammad is acknowledged as God's final prophet, is seen by protesters as an appeasement of a single religious minority. The Ahmadis are regarded as heretics and non-Muslims by the Muslim majority, and an alteration to the oath is perceived by some religious hard-liners as blasphemous. A three-week sit-in protest virtually paralyzed the capital of Islamabad, and at least six protesters were killed and over 200 were injured when police tried unsuccessfully to end the protest on Saturday.

The resignation was part of a deal made with Khadim Hussain Rizvi, leader of the radical Tehreek-e-Labbaik party. The government agreed to release a report on an investigation into the alteration of an electoral oath declaring the prophet Muhammad as God's final prophet. Protesters saw the change as appeasing the Ahmadi sect.

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Hamid's resignation is the government's latest appeasement of religious extremists who have entered Pakistan's political mainstream, the newspaper the Guardian reported on Monday. It followed last week's release from house arrest of militant leader Hafiz Saeed, who leads a political movement opposing Western influence in Pakistani affairs. Saeed, regarded as a terrorist by the United States and the international community, has a $10 million bounty for terrorist actions in India.

Blasphemy, a capital crime in Pakistan, serves as a rallying cry for religious extremists. The recent protests have shown the fragility of the current Pakistani government since former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was disqualified from office in July over corruption allegations, the Guardian reported..

The controversy over the oath has led to numerous altercations between protesters and police. TeL leaders have attacked members of the country's ruling party, and Hamid resigned after his rural home in Pakistan's Sialkot district was attacked.

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