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Roses for Pakistan governor's alleged killer

Associated Press Featured Article

January 08, 2011

Roses for Pakistan governor's alleged killer

By Associated Press ,

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Lawyers showered the suspected killer of a prominent Pakistani governor with rose petals when he arrived at court Wednesday and an influential Muslim scholars group praised the assassination of the outspoken opponent of laws that order death for those who insult Islam.


Mumtaz Qadri, 26, made his first appearance in an Islamabad court, where a judge remanded him in custody a day after he allegedly sprayed automatic gunfire at the back of Punjab province Gov. Salman Taseer while he was supposed to be protecting him as a bodyguard. A rowdy crowd slapped him on the back and kissed his cheek as he was escorted inside. The lawyers who tossed handfuls of rose petals over him were not involved in the case.

As he left the court, a crowd of about 200 sympathizers chanted "death is acceptable for Muhammad's slave." The suspect stood at the back door of an armored police van with a flower necklace given to him by an admirer and repeatedly yelled "God is great."

More than 500 clerics and scholars from the group Jamat Ahle Sunnat said no one should pray or express regret for the killing of the governor. The group representing Pakistan's majority Barelvi sect, which follows a brand of Islam considered moderate, also issued a veiled threat to other opponents of the blasphemy laws.

"The supporter is as equally guilty as one who committed blasphemy," the group warned in a statement, adding politicians, the media and others should learn "a lesson from the exemplary death."

Jamat leader Maulana Shah Turabul Haq Qadri paid "glorious tribute to the murderer ... for his courage, bravery and religious honor and integrity."

Mumtaz Qadri told interrogators Tuesday that he shot the liberal Taseer multiple times because of the politician's vocal opposition to the harsh blasphemy laws.

Qadri is a name commonly adopted by devout men of the Barelvi sect.

Mumtaz Qadri is accused of pumping more than 20 rounds from his assault rifle into Taseer's back in an Islamabad street on Tuesday. The commando, who had been assigned to protect his victim, has yet to be charged with a crime.

A senior police official who interrogated Qadri said he was determined to stand by his confession that he was proud to kill a blasphemer. The official said Qadri had looked for a chance to kill the governor since joining his security squad on Tuesday morning, but did not get the opportunity at the presidential or senate buildings.

His chance came when the squad was called to escort Taseer from a restaurant on Tuesday afternoon, the official said.

After the attack, Qadri threw his weapon down and put up his hands up when one of his colleagues aimed at him, pleading to be arrested alive, the official said.

In the northwest city of Peshawar, more than 40 students rallied for Qadri's release. "All of us students are proud of him, of what Mumtaz did," protester Faisal Khan said.

Taseer, 66, was a senior member of the ruling party and close ally of U.S.–backed President Asif Ali Zardari. He is the highest–profile political figure to be assassinated since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was slain three years ago.

An outspoken moderate in a country increasingly beset by zealotry, his death was a reminder of the growing danger to those in Pakistan who dare to challenge Islamist extremists.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other senior ruling party officials joined up to 6,000 mourners who gathered under tight security to pay silent homage to him at the funeral at his official residence in the eastern city of Lahore.

His assassination added to the turmoil in nuclear–armed Pakistan, where the government is on the verge of collapse and Islamic militancy is on the rise.

Khusro Pervez, the commissioner of Lahore, said city authorities had deployed additional police to keep the peace before and after the funeral. Thousands of police guarded the governor's residence and other key sites.

The governor's residence has been the scene of angry street protests in recent weeks against Taseer's call to repeal blasphemy laws that order death for anyone convicted of insulting Islam and his support for a Christian woman sentenced to die for allegedly insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Political allies questioned why Taseer hadn't been better protected.

In a nod to his campaign for legislative reform, the leading Islamabad newspaper Dawn reported in a front page headline: "Blasphemy law claims another life."

Although courts typically overturn convictions and no executions have been carried out, rights activists say the laws are used to settle rivalries and persecute religious minorities.

Taseer's admirers called the governor a courageous opponent of Pakistan's shift in recent years away from South Asia's Sufi–influenced moderation to the more fundamentalist approaches to Islam found in some areas of the Middle East.

His death also came as a blow to the ruling party, which is struggling to retain power after the defection of a key ally from its governing coalition that left it without a majority in parliament.

___

Associated Press (News - Alert) writers Munir Ahmed and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad and Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.

Related Images:


 Supporters of Pakistan People's party mourn death of Punjab's governor Salman Taseer who was shot dead by one of his guards, outside a local hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. The governor of Pakistan's powerful Punjab province was shot dead Tuesday by one of his guards in the Pakistani capital, police said, the killing was the most high-profile assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since the slaying of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December of 2007. (AP Photo/B.K.Bangash)

 Commando of Pakistan's Elite force Mumtaz Qadri, who allegedly killed Punjab's governor Salman Taseer sits in a police vanin Islamabad, Pakistan on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. An intelligence official interrogating the suspect, identified as Mumtaz Qadri, told The Associated Press that the bearded elite force police commando was boasting about the assassination, saying he was proud to have killed a blasphemer. The governor of Pakistan's powerful Punjab province was shot dead Tuesday by one of his guards in the Pakistani capital, police said, the killing was the most high-profile assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since the slaying of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December of 2007. (AP Photo/Irfan Ali)

 FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2010 file photo, Salman Taseer, right, Governor of Pakistani Punjab Province, listens to Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, left, at a prison in Sheikhupura near Lahore, Pakistan. Taseer was shot dead Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011, by one of his guards in the Pakistani capital, apparently because he had spoken out against the country's controversial blasphemy laws, officials said. The killing of Taseer was the most high-profile assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since the slaying of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007, and it rattled a country already dealing with crises ranging from a potential collapse of the government to Islamist militancy. (AP Photo/File)

 Commando of Pakistan's Elite force Mumtaz Qadri, center, who allegedly killed Punjab's governor Salman Taseer sits in a police van in Islamabad, Pakistan on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. An intelligence official interrogating the suspect, identified as Mumtaz Qadri, told The Associated Press that the bearded elite force police commando was boasting about the assassination, saying he was proud to have killed a blasphemer. The governor of Pakistan's powerful Punjab province was shot dead Tuesday by one of his guards in the Pakistani capital, police said, the killing was the most high-profile assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since the slaying of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December of 2007. (AP Photo/Tariq Waseem)

 Commando of Pakistan's Elite force Mumtaz Qadri, right, who allegedly killed Punjab's governor Salman Taseer sits in a police custody in Islamabad, Pakistan on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. An intelligence official interrogating the suspect, identified as Mumtaz Qadri, told The Associated Press that the bearded elite force police commando was boasting about the assassination, saying he was proud to have killed a blasphemer. The governor of Pakistan's powerful Punjab province was shot dead Tuesday by one of his guards in the Pakistani capital, police said, the killing was the most high-profile assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since the slaying of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December of 2007. (AP Photo/Irfan Ali)

 People carry dead body of Punjab's governor Salman Taseer who was shot dead by one of his guards, to an ambulance at a local hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. The governor of Pakistan's powerful Punjab province was shot dead Tuesday by one of his guards in the Pakistani capital, police said, the killing was the most high-profile assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since the slaying of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December of 2007. (AP Photo/B.K.Bangash)

 People carry dead body of Punjab's governor Salman Taseer who was shot dead by one of his guards, to an ambulance at a local hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. The governor of Pakistan's powerful Punjab province was shot dead Tuesday by one of his guards in the Pakistani capital, police said, the killing was the most high-profile assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since the slaying of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December of 2007. (AP Photo/B.K.Bangash)

 Supporters of Pakistan People's party mourn the death of Punjab's governor Salman Taseer who was shot dead by one of his guards, at a local hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. The governor of Pakistan's powerful Punjab province was assassinated Tuesday by one of his guards. (AP Photo/B.K.Bangash)

 Troops of Pakistan's para military force stand guard outside a local hospital where Punjab's governor Salman Taseer's dead body was brought in Islamabad, Pakistan on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. The governor of Pakistan's powerful Punjab province was shot dead Tuesday by one of his guards in the Pakistani capital, police said, the killing was the most high-profile assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since the slaying of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December of 2007. (AP Photo/B.K.Bangash)

 Pakistani police officers ask the crowd to leave the site where Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer was shot dead by one of his guards, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. The governor of Pakistan's powerful Punjab province was shot dead Tuesday by one of his guards in the Pakistani capital, police said, the killing was the most high-profile assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since the slaying of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December of 2007. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 Pakistani police officers cordon off the site where Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer was shot dead by one of his guards, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. The governor of Pakistan's powerful Punjab province was shot dead Tuesday by one of his guards in the Pakistani capital, police said, the killing was the most high-profile assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since the slaying of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December of 2007. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

 Pakistani police officers gather at the site where Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer was shot dead by one of his guards, in Islamabad, Pakistan, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2011. The governor of Pakistan's powerful Punjab province was shot dead Tuesday by one of his guards in the Pakistani capital, police said, the killing was the most high-profile assassination of a political figure in Pakistan since the slaying of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December of 2007. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)



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