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Pakistani Christians hold memorial services for slain Punjab governor, Shaheed Salman Taseer

Christians across Pakistan on Sunday, January 9, 2011, held memorial services for slain Punjab governor Shaheed Salman Taseer, who was assassinated by a police guard for defending Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy.

Punjab governor Shaheed Salman Taseer

A report by said, “Congregations offered special prayers for Taseer on the call of the All Pakistan Minority Alliance. Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, joined prayers at Fatima Church in Islamabad.

“Special prayers were also offered for national integrity and prosperity of the country. The large gathering at Fatima Church showered flowers and lit candles at a shrine for Taseer as armed policemen stood guard outside.”

Bhatti said the special congregations were arranged to promote inter-faith harmony, national integrity and religious harmony. Condemning the assassination of Taseer, Bhatti said the killer wanted to disrupt peace in the country.

“Taseer always tried to protect the rights of minorities,” Bhatti said.

He then urged liberal, progressive and political forces to fight the forces who want to harm peace.

“Extremist elements want to destabilize Pakistan by creating anarchy,” he added.

Pakistani police guards carry the coffin of the late Punjab governor during his funeral in Lahore under heavy security. Inset, the governor speaking at an event

Bishop Alexander John Malik led a gathering at a cathedral. Praising the slain governor, Malik said: “He was a voice for the oppressed. We dedicate this day to him.”

The Pakistan Masiha Millat Party, a Christian organization, organized a candle-light vigil in memory of Taseer in Lahore. Pakistan. People’s Party (PPP) chief, Aslam Pervez Sahotara, and different Christian leaders, participated in the ceremony held outside the Governor’s House.

People offered prayers for Taseer and his family. Speakers said Taseer’s martyrdom was a big sacrifice for the Christian community that will always be remembered.

Taseer had angered religious hardliners by defending Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death last year under the controversial blasphemy law. He also called for the amendment of the law to prevent its misuse.

Meanwhile is reporting that the son of slain Pakistani ex-leader Benazir Bhutto has condemned those who have praised the assassination of a provincial governor opposed to the country’s blasphemy laws.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told mourners on Monday at the Pakistan High Commission in London, England, that people who have voiced support for the killer of Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer were “the real blasphemers.”

“Because of you, the message of Islam is distorted in the eyes of the world,” said Bhutto Zardari, whose father is Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari.

“Those who attack my religion, especially those who corrupt its peaceful message, you are what I call covert blasphemers and you will be defeated,” he continued.

“This will be our jihad.”

Bhutto Zardari further pledged to defend Christians and other minorities in the country.

“We will defend you. For those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit, they will have to go through me first,” he said.

Taseer was a member of the main ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of which Bhutto Zardari is co-chairman with his father.

The governor was shot dead by his bodyguard outside an Islamabad coffee shop on Tuesday last week, in the most high-profile assassination in Pakistan since ex-PPP prime minister Benazir Bhutto was killed in December 2007.

Many from Pakistan’s conservative religious quarter have praised Taseer’s killer for acting to silence the outspoken moderate politician.

The gunman, police commando Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, has said he killed in the name of religion because of the governor’s stance on blasphemy laws.

More than 50,000 people from religious groups rallied in Karachi Sunday in support of Qadri, calling him a hero and demanding that any effort to reform the blasphemy law — recently used to sentence a Christian woman to death — be dropped.

Speaking at the memorial meeting late Monday, Bhutto Zardari compared the killing of Taseer with that of his mother three years ago, saying they both died defending the real message of Islam.

“My mother embraced martyrdom while defending our faith. She was martyred doing her jihad against those who had hijacked our religion,” said Bhutto.

“On January 4, Shaheed Salman Taseer was assassinated because he too refused to be silenced. He too was assassinated in defense of our religion. He died defending the message of Islam.”

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