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Paramilitary forces deployed to quell communal violence in Pakistan

August 02, 2009 21:40 IST

Paramilitary troops were deployed in a village on Sunday, in Pakistan's Punjab province where 10 people were killed in violence between Muslims and Christians over the alleged desecration of Quran.Pakistan Rangers personnel took up positions in and around Azafi Abadi village, also known as Koriaan, where the situation remained tense, a day after it witnessed communal clashes.

Persons from the two communities exchanged fire and over 80 homes of Christians were set on fire by mobs. Despite deployment of the Pakistan Rangers, the situation in the area remained tense throughout the day as some Christians refused to bury their dead until police registered a complaint against those responsible for thekillings and arson. 

"We have arrested a number of suspects and exemplary punishment will be given to those involved in heinous crimes. This is a crime against humanity," Rana Sanaullah, Law Minister of Punjab, told reporters. He said some outlawed religious groups were involved in the violence but did not name them.A source in the police department told PTI that activists of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba and Sipah-e-Muhammad were involved in the violence. "Their armed activists from other parts of Punjab gathered in Koriaan village," the source said. 

Violence erupted in the village, part of Gojra sub-division of Toba Tek Singh district and located 160 km from Lahore, when a group of Muslims alleged three Christians burnt pages of the Quran during a wedding last week. At least seven Christians – including four women and two children – were burnt alive. Three others were killed in police firing on Saturday, witnesses said. Scores were injured in clashes between the two communities. Mobs also ransacked over 50 homes of Christians and two churches in the village.Reports said some local clerics, instead of helping to calm tempers, instigated people to show their strength against"infidels".

A public meeting was held by religious parties on Saturday shortly before violent clashes began, reports said. Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti and Sanaullah said no Christian was involved in desecrating the Quran. They held local police responsible for the violence, saying they did not act in time. They also announced compensation for the kin of the dead.Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Human Liberation Commission of Pakistan and other minority groups have condemned the violence and urged the government to protect Christians and conduct a transparent probe into the incident.  President Asif Ali Zardari directed Bhatti to stay in the village "till the situation is normalised and the affected people return to their homes safely," said a statement issued by presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar.

M Zulqernain in Lahore
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