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Christians Speak Out Against Bhutto Assassination


January 03 2008

Bangladeshi Christians have condemned the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, the first woman elected to lead an Islamic state.

On Dec. 31, a five-member team representing Catholic and Protestant communities of Bangladesh visited the Pakistani High Commission in Dhaka and wrote comments in the condolence book kept there.

Bhutto, 54, chairperson of the Pakistan People´s Party, and about 20 party workers were reported killed Dec. 27 in an attack in Rawalpindi, bordering Islamabad. Around 40 other people were injured in the attack.

"We express our deep shock and concern at the death of Benazir Bhutto, a great leader of South Asia, who was fighting for restoration of democracy in Pakistan," the Christian delegation wrote in the condolence book, according Nirmol Rozario, secretary general of the Bangladesh Christian Association.

Rozario told UCA News after their visit that they also wrote: "We condemn the brutal killing and ask for a trial of the culprits and miscreants."

When they came to know of the condolence book opened at the Pakistani High Commission, Christian leaders "felt we should go on behalf of the community," he said. "We expressed our profound sympathy towards her children, husband and family members. And we also expressed our solidarity with the Pakistani brothers and sisters in this crucial situation."

Rozario said the movements for democracy in Pakistan led by Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, another former premier, are inspirations for Bangladesh too, but he fears the assassination will hamper the overall democratic environment in South Asia.

"It is not simply an incident; it is a planned killing. Therefore it is a threat to progressive forces in the region," the Christian community leader warned. He added that the culprits would be encouraged toward further such assassinations if they are not checked and punished.

Bangladesh existed as East Pakistan until it achieved its independence from West Pakistan on Dec. 16, 1971, after a nine-month war. Now Bangladesh and Pakistan, respectively, both Muslim countries have had democracy movements spearheaded by women -- the daughters or wives of assassinated leaders -- amid decades of military dictatorship. Presently both countries have army-backed governments that were not elected by popular vote.

Father Kamal Corraya, director of the Bangladeshi Catholic bishops´ communication center, told UCA News on Dec. 31 that bishops of the country´s six dioceses asked parish priests to say special prayers with parishioners for peace in Pakistan. He said prayers were offered at midnight Masses on Dec. 31 and at all Masses on Jan. 1.

Father Corraya, editor of the country´s only Catholic weekly, Pratibeshi, saw a similarity between the attack on Bhutto and one on Bangladesh´s former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, also a woman.

In August 2004, prior to a rally in Dhaka by the Awami League, one of the two major political parties in Bangladesh, a deadly grenade attack killed 22 people and injured hundreds of others. Hasina, Awami League president, managed to escape injury, however.

"The two attacks seem to me the same, though this is my personal guess," Father Corraya said.

The only way to overcome such activities is to educate people, Father Corraya suggested. "People need to be aware of their rights and to come forward with inspiration to establish their rights," he said. "They should move ahead with courage."

Fakhruddin Ahmed, chief adviser of Bangladesh´s caretaker government, has strongly condemned Bhutto´s assassination, calling it a cowardly and unpardonable crime, according to a Dec. 27 foreign ministry press release.

"It is an unpardonable crime that has shocked the world. The government and people of Bangladesh mourn this tragedy with their Pakistani brethren," Ahmed said. He also prayed that "the souls of all those killed in the incident rest in eternal peace."