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Christians take to streets over riots

11 March, 2013

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LAHORE: Christians demonstrated in cities around Pakistan on Sunday to protest after a mob torched more than 100 Christian homes following allegations of blasphemy.

More than 3,000 people rampaged through Joseph Colony, a Christian area of Lahore, on Saturday after allegations that a Christian had made derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) three days earlier. Around 300 people have been arrested, police said, and though no one was killed the incident highlights the religious tensions affecting the country, as it prepares for a general election expected in May.

The Lahore police arrested around 300 Christian protesters for pelting them with stones and damaging public property during the protest demonstration. More than 60 Christians, including 13 women, received injuries when police started aerial firing and baton charging to disperse the protesters, but not to avail. The injured were taken to different local private clinics where their conditions were said to be out of danger.

In Lahore, Christian protesters demanded greater protection and clashed with police, who used batons and tear gas to disperse them after they blocked a busy road, senior police officer Abdul Ghaffar Qaisarani said. There were also minor clashes between police and protesters in Karachi and further demonstrations in Islamabad, Multan and Quetta.

DIG (Operations) Rai Tahir said that eight different police teams have been constituted for the arrest of the people involved in the Badami Bagh incident. Around 150 people allegedly involved in the incident had been arrested from different areas of the city, he said and added that more raids will be conducted to arrest others involved. The Christian protesters belonging to Youhanabad Nishter Colony and its surrounding colonies started the protest early on Sunday in front of Nishter Depot of the Metro Bus Service.

The protesters demanded quick arrest of those involved in the Badami Bagh rampage and registration of cases against them. They also chanted slogans against the provincial government, administration and police, as a result of which traffic was also blocked on the Ferozepur Road for several hours, which created panic among the motorists. Some enraged demonstrators resorted to stone throwing and broke the windows of buses and stands of the newly constructed Metro Bus Service.

The spokesperson of the CCPO office told our sources that any person involved in violence would be dealt with according to law. He said that police tried to identify those protesters who created problems and were involved in damaging public property. Sources in the police department said that the peaceful protest demonstration continued on Ferozepur Road until 12:30pm. They said that the situation changed when, after negotiations, police moved them from Nishter Metro Bus Depot to Youhanabad Colony. They said that protesters tried to block the road, but police pushed them back into the Youhanabad Colony side, resulting in street fighting, which continued until evening.

Asher Bhatti and Naveed Alam, both residents of Youhanabad Colony, and Dilbar Gill of Bahar Colony told our sources that "some official of the agencies in plain clothes and some Christian youth broke the windowpanes of different private vehicles and damaged shops belonging to the Muslims in Youhanabad area". They claimed that the police and other agencies were responsible for all this because they turned a peaceful protest into a clash. They added that a police contingent cordoned off the Youhanbad Colony in Nishter Colony area, and Bahar Colony in Liaqatabad police area. They further said that police entered the houses of Christians and made arrests. They said that police also arrested innocent people who were tending their shops.

Spokeswoman for the Punjab Police Nabila Ghazanfar said on Sunday that four senior officers had been removed from their posts for "negligence" and "failure to control" the mob that attacked the Christian colony. The Punjab government initially promised 200,000 rupees compensation to each family affected by the violence, but Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif raised this to 500,000 rupees after visiting the scene on Sunday. "The chief minister declared that the repair work of all the houses would be completed in 72 hours," a senior Punjab government official said.


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