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Pak deploys troops as riots toll rises: official

world Updated: Aug 02, 2009 17:54 IST
AFP
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Paramilitary soldiers were on Sunday patrolling a remote Pakistani town as the death toll from riots between muslims and christians rose to seven, officials said.

An angry mob of muslims attacked a residential area of the minority christian community on Saturday, torching 40 houses and a church in Gojra district, about 160 kilometres (99 miles) west of Lahore. The violence broke out over the alleged desecration of a Koran.

Six people were killed in the rioting while the charred body of another christian was found overnight, officials said.
"A total of seven christians were killed and 14 injured," local administration chief Tahir Hussain told reporters.
Authorities deployed paramilitary rangers in the area and arrested 12 suspects, he said, adding that three were from a banned sectarian group.

Provincial law minister, Rana Sanaullah, who visited the violence-hit town Sunday, promised to pay compensation to the affected families.

"We have identified those who attacked, they are terrorists, these people want to destabilise our country," he told reporters.

"We will give compensation to the victims, we will pay them for all the losses they suffered," Sanaullah said.
Earlier, more than 1,000 christians staged demonstrations in Gojra and demanded the arrest of those involved in the attack.

"People were very angry, they have said they will not bury their dead until the government assured the attackers would be arrested," Father Shabbir Masih said.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has ordered an inquiry into the alleged desecration of the Koran, officials said, adding that he has appealed to the residents of the area "to remain calm and demonstrate restraint till the inquiry is finalized."

The unrest between a group of muslim and christian villagers first flared late last month over the "desecration" of the pages of a Koran, but the matter was thought to have been resolved amicably, police said.

However, tensions erupted again on Saturday when the christian group were attacked again and their houses set on fire.
Desecrating the Koran is punishable by death under the blasphemy laws of muslim majority Pakistan, although no executions have been carried out for the crime.

Christians, who make up less than three per cent of Pakistan's 160 million population, claim the blasphemy laws are used as an excuse to victimise them.