Christian minister shot dead in Pakistan

Unidentified gunmen on Wednesday assassinated Pakistan’s minorities minister, a vocal advocate of diluting the country’s harsh blasphemy law, near his Islamabad family home. The killing of Pakistan’s only Christian cabinet minister came under two months of the murder of Punjab governor Salman Taseer and added proof of the growing intolerance of minorities. Like Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti, 42, a leader of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), wanted a bill to amend the blasphemy law to go through Parliament and had received threats from Islamic extremists. Taseer was gunned down by his bodyguard on January 4 and the two high-profile killings would further suppress the country’s marginalized voices of moderation.
Bhatti was intercepted by his assailants, suspected to be from the Tehreek-e-Taliban, just as he left his mother’s home in Islamabad’s I-8/3 sector. Assailants in a whitecoloured 800cc Suzuki car first dragged the minister’s driver out of the car and then indiscriminately fired at him from Kalashnikovs, eyewitness said. The attackers escaped after the shooting, leaving behind pamphlets warning that those who backed minorities would get the same treatment. “Whoever criticizes the blasphemy law will meet the same fate,’’ one leaflet said.