Eight Christians killed in Pak riots

LAHORE: Paramilitary troops patrolled the streets of an eastern Pakistani city today after eight Christians died in riots led by Muslims, according to police.

Hundreds of Muslims burned and looted Christian homes in the city of Gorja in a rampage sparked by allegations that a Quran had been defaced. Shooting broke out, and six people were killed, including a child and four women. Two men wounded by gunfire died in the hospital overnight.

Officials said the riots, which began on Thursday but had calmed before flaring again on Saturday, had been instigated

by members of a

banned extremist Muslim organisation.

Paramilitary troops were sent to Gorja to help police control the situation, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said on Saturday, amid allegations the police had failed to respond quickly enough to prevent the violence from escalating.

“Usually, Muslims and Christians live together peacefully. There have been some miscreants involved in this incident. We are investigating that,” Malik said.

Christians make up a tiny minority of Pakistan’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 160 million people. Although the two communities generally live peacefully, Muslim radicals have periodically targetted churches and Christians.

Minorities also face intimidation at the hands of discriminatory laws, including one that carries the death penalty for using derogatory language against Islam, the Quran and the Prophet Mohammad. The law is often misused to settle personal scores and rivalries.

Punjab province Police Chief Tariq Salim Dogar said 64 people had been arrested under Pakistan’s anti-terrorism laws — 40 of them were detained

for the initial unrest

and another 24 for Saturday’s riots.

Dogar said security was increased in the area today, when funerals were expected to be held.

Locals and officials said the situation this morning was tense, but there was no renewed unrest.

“There is too much fear among the Christians,” said Provincial Minister for Minority Affairs Kamran Michael. “The situation is tense in the city, but security has been enhanced to keep the situation under control.” Sohail Iqbal, a cell phone shop owner in the city’s main market, told The Associated Press over phone that there was a heavy police presence in the area.

“We have opened our shop and others too, but the atmosphere is grim and tense,” he said.

Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti said 40 Christian homes were torched on Saturday in rioting led by the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba group, which is accused of attacking security forces and of staging bombings at public places in recent years. He said there was no truth to allegations that a Quran had been defiled and accused the police of ignoring his appeal to provide protection to Christians under threat.