EU demands justice after Pakistan Catholic assassination
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton urged Pakistan Wednesday to ensure justice after gunmen assassinated a Catholic government minister because he wanted to reform an anti-blasphemy law.
The killing in broad daylight of minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti as he left his mother's home was the second high-profile assassination in two months -- feted by Islamist hardliners who rejoiced at the death of an "apostate."
Expressing her "great sadness," English baroness Ashton said: "I strongly condemn the murder of a member of the government who was well known for his defence of the principles of equality and human rights which are enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan.
"I am also deeply concerned about the climate of intolerance and violence linked to the debate on the controversial blasphemy laws.
"I urge the Pakistani authorities to do their utmost to ensure the protection of those in the government and civil society who have spoken out on these matters, and to bring to justice those responsible for this crime."
Ashton and Britain are currently fighting to push through a series of EU trade aid concessions for Pakistan agreed in the wake of last year's floods, but which face strong opposition from Italy and others in the World Trade Organization.
Bhatti, a member of Pakistan's tiny Christian community, had been a vocal opponent of the law despite receiving death threats after the first murder. Liberal late governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer was killed by his bodyguard in January.
Controversy over the legislation, originally introduced by British colonial rulers of the Indian sub-continent in 1927, flared both within Pakistan and internationally after a Christian mother of five was sentenced to hang last year for making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Mohammed.
Politicians and conservative clerics have been at loggerheads over whether Aasia Bibi should be pardoned.
Only around three percent of Pakistan's population of 167 million are estimated to be non-Muslim.
© 2011 AFP