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Christians mourn murdered minister

Protests and prayers on the streets as Bhatti buried in home village

Christians mourn murdered minister
The funeral of federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in Khushpur reporter, Khushpur

March 7, 2011

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More than 500 churches all over Pakistan offered prayers in memorial services for murdered Catholic federal minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti on March 6. Catholic and Church of Pakistan bishops had already appealed for people to mark a day of prayer. Also on Sunday more than 4,000 protestors condemning the assassination blocked the main road in a rally from Stunzabad to Amrat Nagar, two Christian villages in South Punjab. The struggle against the blasphemy laws will continue as Citizens for Democracy, an NGO, plans to send an e-signature campaign to government hierarchy today. The letter demands for action against calls for violence and vigilante action. The Minorities Movement for Democracy, another NGO, has announced it will start a "Shahbaz Movement”, a mass awareness and mobilization campaign against extremism. On March 4, more than 20,000 attended the burial rites for Bhatti in the Punjab village of Khushpur. Black flags and banners glorifying Bhatti were displayed on the streets and wailing was heard all day as villagers took part in day-long rallies, converging at the minister’s house before the funeral. Bhatti, who supported the revision of blasphemy laws, was assassinated on March 2 in a gun attack in Islamabad. Prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani attended the funeral in Fatima Church, Islamabad, before political leaders escorted the body from Islamabad to Khushpur in two helicopters. He assured the Christian mourners that the culprits would be brought to justice. “The blood will bring revolution” and “down with blasphemy laws”, shouted protestors wearing black arm bands. Women beat their chests, Christian youths slapped their heads while some cut themselves with razor blades. “Our brother died for us; this is the least we can do”, said Younas Masih, a shirtless local. Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad as well as Church of Pakistan Bishops Alexander John Malik and Samuel Azariah offered the funeral Mass at St. Dominic Girls High School. Police commandos guarded the venue as congregation passed through scanner gate. The organizing priests, crying, struggled to keep the service in peace. “A society which bans right to question is dead. The concept of a paradise for murderers is absurd; we cannot respect a god which encourages killing. Still the Church will never give hate fatwas”, said Father Perwaiz Emmanuel, cousin of Bhatti, in his address. “The government is trying to make it a political killing. The country has failed in protecting minorities and is sinking in extremism”, said the protestant Bishop Malik. The villagers later sprayed rose petals as the minister's body was taken to the graveyard. Karachi archdiocese also paid tribute to the minister and offered prayers for harmony at Christ the King seminary. Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha blessed a crucifix which will be placed at the seminary “to keep alive the memory of the great sacrifice of Bhatti”, said its rector. PA13529.1644

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