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Pakistan - sectarian violence - interview

Troops sent to Punjab after anti-Christian riots leave six dead

by Amanda Morrow

Article published on the 2009-08-01 Latest update 2009-08-03 16:07 TU

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani(Photo: Reuters)

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani
(Photo: Reuters)

Paramilitary troops have been sent to an area in Pakistan's Punjab province after rioting left six Christians dead, according to reports. On Friday evening Muslim villagers set fire to the homes of Christian neighbours following riots Thursday nearby.

On Friday 47 homes were burned in the village of Korian, in the Toba Tek Singh district, which is home to some 500 Christians. Most are reported to have abandoned their homes and gone into hiding.

Four Christian women and a child are reported to be among the dead.

Shebaz Jalal, of Paigaam Ministries, told RFI that he was travelling back from Lahore with his family when police stopped him a few kilometres from the village.

Eyewitness: Shebaz Jalal, of Paigaam Ministries

01/08/2009 by Amanda Morrow

“They also burnt one of the churches there, and they killed animals, they abused the women and beat the men,” Jalal says. "They left nothing. We could see the fire from many miles away.

“We saw some police cars running towards the affected area and we have heard that the police have tried to stop the Muslims. This is the fifth such kind of attack in Pakistan.”

The attacks in the village followed riots in nearby Gojra.

Federal Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, said hundreds of members of a banned radical Muslim organisation began torching Christian homes there. He said he had visited the city and asked police to protect Christians facing threats.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has sent paramilitaries to the area and ordered an inquiry.

Local television footage from the scene showed houses ransacked and burning, and streets littered with debris. Residents were filmed rioting – some armed with shotguns.

Tensions between the Christian and Muslim communities of the area rose after pages of the Koran were allegedly found in a garbage bin outside a Christian house.

Punjab Human Rights Minister Kamran Michael told Pakistan’s Daily Times newspaper the government would act against those responsible, and victims would be compensated.

President Asif Ali Zardari has contacted the provincial government and called for a thorough investigation.

He urged mutual tolerance and reconciliation.

“Tolerance for plurality and respect for the views of others is part of the culture of democracy,” Zardari said. “It is against the spirit of Islam and the norms of a civilised society when laws are taken into one’s own hands and members of the minority community are vandalised for real or imagined crimes.”

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