Clashes erupt between Muslims, Christians in Pak, 9 killed



Lahore: At least nine persons died on Saturday in police firing and violent clashes between Muslims and the minority Christian community in Pakistan's Punjab province following the alleged desecration of the holy Quran.

Hundreds of Muslims gathered this morning and marched towards Christian homes at Azafi Abadi village, 160 km from Lahore. Witnesses said at least three persons were killed and some others injured when police fired at a mob that was trying to forcibly enter the homes of Christians.

The bodies of six Christians – three women, two children and a man – were pulled out of houses that were set alight by the mob. Officials said they feared the toll could rise as the rubble of some 70 burnt houses is yet to be cleared.

Eighteen people, including policemen, were injured in the clashes between the two groups. The mob also looted over 100 houses.

Witnesses said at least five persons were injured when the two groups exchanged fire this afternoon. Reports also said two senior police officers were injured in the clashes.

A mob had yesterday burnt over 70 houses of Christians at Azafi Abadi over an alleged incident of desecration of the Quran. Muslims set on fire another 15 houses of Christians today.

Violence erupted in the area when a group of Muslims alleged that three Christians had burnt pages of the Quran at a wedding ceremony.

Beleaguered law enforcement personnel have roped in Muslim clerics and elders of the Christian community to calm tensions between the two sides.

Rana Sanaullah, the Law Minister of Punjab, described the violence as a "conspiracy against Pakistan" and called for restraint. He said no Christian was involved in desecrating the Quran.

"Strict action will taken against those involved in violence," he said.

The Bishop of Lahore, Alexander John Malik, condemned the attack on Christians, saying it was the second instance of violence against the community within a month.

"The fanatics are attacking minorities, which is a deplorable act. The government should take serious action against extremists who are targeting Christians and burning their houses," he said. Christians would launch "strong protests at every level," he added.

During yesterday's violence, a mob blocked the main road to prevent fire tenders from entering the village. Local politicians and clerics succeeded in calming tensions late last night but they flared again this morning.

When the mob began marching towards the homes of Christians this morning, police initially fired in the air. When this failed to disperse the protestors, police fired at the mob, witnesses said.

Aslam Sahothra, general secretary of the Human Liberation Commission of Pakistan told a news agency that police had failed to protect the life and property of minorities.

Beleaguered law enforcement personnel have roped in Muslim clerics and elders of the Christian community to calm tensions between the two sides.

Rana Sanaullah, the Law Minister of Punjab, described the violence as a "conspiracy against Pakistan" and called for restraint. He said no Christian was involved in desecrating the Quran.

"Strict action will taken against those involved in violence," he said.

The Bishop of Lahore, Alexander John Malik, condemned the attack on Christians, saying it was the second instance of violence against the community within a month.

"The fanatics are attacking minorities, which is a deplorable act. The government should take serious action against extremists who are targeting Christians and burning their houses," he said. Christians would launch "strong protests at every level," he added.

During yesterday's violence, a mob blocked the main road to prevent fire tenders from entering the village. Local politicians and clerics succeeded in calming tensions late last night but they flared again this morning.

When the mob began marching towards the homes of Christians this morning, police initially fired in the air. When this failed to disperse the protestors, police fired at the mob, witnesses said.

Aslam Sahothra, general secretary of the Human Liberation Commission of Pakistan told a news agency that police had failed to protect the life and property of minorities.

Bureau Report