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Thousands rally in Lahore over blasphemy law

LAHORE: About 40,000 people rallied in Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore on Sunday in the latest protest against proposed reforms of a controversial blasphemy law, police said.

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Supporters of the religious and political party Jamaat-e-Islami hold a banner that reads “Pakistani Demand to Hang Raymond Davis Immediately” while praying during a protest rally in Karachi January 30, 2011. – Reuters

Religious groups have held protests in several Pakistani cities since former Punjab governor Salman Taseer vowed to amend the law, that was recently used to sentence a Christian woman to death

Taseer’s stance enraged the country’s increasingly conservative religious base and he was assassinated on January 4 by his own security guard, who has said he killed the governor over his support for reform.

Under intense pressure from religious parties, Pakistan’s government has since said it had no intentions to amend the law.

Demonstrators from religious parties Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan and Jamaat-ud-Dawa held banners in support of Mumtaz Qadri – the police commando who shot dead Taseer.

Participants chanted slogans including “Free Mumtaz Qadri”, “We are ready to sacrifice our lives for the honour of Prophet Mohammad” and “Changes in blasphemy law not accepted.”

An AFP reporter saw activists carrying effigies of Pope Benedict XVI and Pakistani minorities affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti shouting slogans “Allah-o-Akbar.”

Local government official Tariq Zaman put the overall number of protesters at 40,000.

Leaders of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz and Quaid-i-Azam group also addressed the rally.

Event organisers called the brothers of two Pakistani men shot dead by a US national in Lahore on Thursday to the stage and pledged their support for the victims’ families in pursuing a murder case.

The US man, named as Raymond Davis, is being held at a police station on double murder charges over the shooting of the two motorcyclists.

The US embassy had claimed diplomatic immunity on his behalf while Davis, who has been held at a Lahore police station since the incident, told a magistrate’s court Friday that he had fired in self-defence.

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