Pakistani police foil attempt to burn church

AP News
Posted: Apr 30, 2011 11:03 AM
Pakistani police foil attempt to burn church

Police broke up a mob of people armed with sticks that was threatening to attack a church Saturday after word spread that two copies of the Quran had been burned in eastern Pakistan, officials said.

The tiny Christian minority in predominantly Muslim Pakistan is often intimidated and subjected to mob violence. The crowds marching toward the church in the city of Gujranwala blamed Christians for the burning of the Qurans.

Police charged the crowd of 300 people marching toward the church, lightly injuring several protesters, said Saeed Wahla, the top administrator in the city. The protesters blocked a street with barricades of burning tires.

A burned Quran was found Saturday, and two weeks earlier several burned pages from the holy book turned up, said Nabil Awan, another local official.

Pakistan's Christians, who make up 1.6 percent of the country's population of 180 million, live in fear of being persecuted or arrested under the country's harsh laws against blasphemy, which are often misused to settle personal scores or family feuds. The laws call for the death penalty for anyone insulting Islam, its holy book or the Prophet Muhammad.

The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, a Christian group, condemned Saturday's march and demanded the government hold an inquiry to find out who was responsible for organizing it. The group said such incidents are "just a conspiracy to destabilize the country."

Addressing the purported desecration of Qurans, the group said in a statement, "All Christians respect all the prophets, holy books and scriptures."

"No one among (the) Christian community can even imagine committing such a heinous crime," it said.

In neighboring Afghanistan, crowds outraged by the burning of a Quran at a Florida church protested for days and attacked a U.N. compound on April 1, killing three U.N. staff and four Nepalese guards.

Meanwhile, a roadside bomb hit a minibus in a northwestern tribal region Saturday, killing two passengers and wounding nine others, said local official Javed Khan. The attack happened on Ladda road in Pakistan's Kurram tribal region.

Kurram lies near the Afghan border. Pakistan's military has carried out several operations against Islamist militants hiding there after escaping last year's army offensive in the nearby Orakzai tribal area.

The region has also been the scene of clashes between rival Sunni and Shiite communities for years.


Associated Press writer Hussain Afzal in Parachinar contributed to this report.