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Pakistanis bury slain Christian politician

Associated Press / March 5, 2011

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KHUSHPUR, Pakistan — Men beat their bare chests, women wailed, and church leaders warned that Pakistan was sinking under the weight of extremism yesterday as they buried a Christian politician assassinated for opposing harsh blasphemy laws.

Shahbaz Bhatti, the sole Christian government minister in this Muslim-majority country, was shot dead Wednesday after receiving threats for campaigning to change laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam. He was the second Pakistani politician killed in two months over the matter, and his death underscored the perils facing a government that is increasingly too weak to govern well in the face of rising Islamist extremism.

As Bhatti was being mourned, a bomb blast at a mosque in Pakistan’s northwest killed eight people, another sign of the militants’ strength.

Thousands of people thronged the roads in Khushpur, a Christian-dominated village of around 10,000 in eastern Punjab Province, chanting slogans demanding justice as Bhatti’s body was flown in and driven through in an ambulance covered with rose petals.

Catholic religious leaders read prayers and Bible verses as black flags fluttered nearby and Bhatti’s picture loomed over the crowd, many of whom expressed anger over the discrimination they experience. They warned that rising religious extremism could destroy Pakistan, but also told mourners that God would mete out justice if the government didn’t.

“Christ taught us patience, so don’t lose patience,’’ said Alexander Malik, bishop of Lahore.

Christians are the largest religious minority in Pakistan, where 95 percent of the country’s 180 million people are Muslim. They are often victims of discrimination and persecution.

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