Hardliners rally against Pope across Pakistan`s Punjab
Last Updated: Saturday, January 15, 2011, 00:31
Lahore: Hardline religious parties and extremist groups, including the Jamaat-ud-Dawah, organised rallies across Punjab province today to protest Pope Benedict's call for the repeal of Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law.

The rallies were organised under the banner of the Tehrik Tahaffuz-e-Namoos-e-Risalat, an alliance of Islamist groups opposed to any move to repeal or amend the blasphemy law.

Members of the JuD, Sunni Tehrik, Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl joined the protests.

Speaking outside the JuD's headquarters at Chauburji in Lahore, its leader Hafiz Saifullah Mansoor criticised the Pope for supporting Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death last year for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

Mansoor alleged that when an American priest had announced plans to desecrate the Quran, the Pope and the Western world did nothing to stop him.

Abdur Rehman Makki, another senior JuD leader, said the Pope's statement amounted to interference in Pakistan's internal affairs.

He warned the government not to yield to "foreign pressure" and said the rulers would be held responsible if Asia Bibi is allowed to flee the country.

The protestors carried banners and placards inscribed with slogans against the Pope and in favour of the blasphemy law.

They also shouted slogans against the Pope, the US and Israel.

Senior Jamaat-e-Islamai leader Sirajul Haq said the Pope's demand had hurt the feelings of the Muslim world.

He warned Pakistan's rulers that the people would organise a march to Islamabad if any move is made to amend the provisions of the blasphemy law.

Amir Ameerul Azeem, another Jamaat-e-Islami leader, criticised the government for showing "cowardice" in handling the case of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who was given a long prison term in America following her conviction on terror charges.

Azeem claimed Pakistan's rulers had not spoken out for Siddiqui but were sympathising with a woman convicted for blasphemy.

He asked the government to lodge a protest against the Pope's statement and said a bill seeking amendments to the blasphemy law should be withdrawn from parliament.

He also said a "grand rally" would be organised in Lahore on January 30 to "compel the rulers not to play with the sentiments of Muslims".

Salmaan Taseer, a senior leader of the Pakistan People's Party and the Governor of Punjab, was recently gunned down by a police guard who said he was angered by the politician's criticism of the blasphemy law.


First Published: Saturday, January 15, 2011, 00:31

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