Christian locality attacked in Pakistan
Lahore: A mob of Muslims attacked a Christian neighbourhood in Pakistan`s central Punjab province following a petty quarrel today, the latest in a string of incidents involving tensions between the two communities.
Police fired in the air and used teargas and batons to disperse both groups, leading to six injured, including policemen.
The incident began when a mob targeted Francisabad Colony of Gujranwala city, 80 km from Lahore, and damaged several shops, homes, cars and motorcycles.
A large group of Christians, some of them armed with sticks, also gathered in the area and clashed with the Muslims.
The wounded were taken to a nearby hospital for first aid. Francisabad Colony is one of the largest Christian settlements in Gujranwala district, with a population of about 2,000 families.
The incident in Gujranwala comes almost a month after a mob of Muslims vandalised and torched some 200 homes of Christians at Joseph Colony in Lahore on March 9.
Trouble had erupted there after a Muslim man accused a Christian resident of Joseph Colony of committing blasphemy.
The latest clash in Gujranwala began last night after a Muslim cleric rebuked some boys from Francisabad Colony for playing music on their mobile phones while passing by a mosque.
Though the boys turned off the music, the cleric accused them of disrespecting Islam, said Samson Salamat, director of the Centre for Human Rights Education.
The cleric allegedly instigated the Muslim community to attack the Christians, Salamat said in a statement.
Another report from Gujranwala said the trouble began after children of the two communities quarrelled during a cricket match yesterday.
"One of the Muslim boys probably told his parents that the Christian boys had spoken against Islam during the quarrel," a local resident said.
Tensions reached a peak this afternoon when an announcement was made from mosques near Francisabad Colony that "some Christians had committed blasphemy."
A Muslim mob gathered and marched towards the Christian neighbourhood. Senior police officials of Gujranwala division, Muslim clerics and Christian priests reached the area and tried to control the situation.
Police asked some Christian families to vacate their homes to prevent any untoward incident, officials said.
Footage on television showed the mob pelting stones at policemen, who fired in the air and lobbed teargas. The mob also ransacked a police post.
"We are trying to sort out the issue amicably between the two groups," Najam Shah, chief of the Gujranwala district administration, told reporters.
He said police would remain in the conflict zone till the situation returns to normal. He condemned the attack and described the situation as "very alarming".
Salamat demanded that the Punjab government should take steps to stop such "atrocities".
"The vulnerability of religious minorities, particularly Christians, is increasing day-by-day due to the growing level of intolerance in society.
This intolerance cannot be controlled unless a clear policy is made to eliminate the mindset that is promoting hatred," Salamat said.
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