Asia

Pakistan arrests scores over Lahore anti-Christian riot

A rioter burns a cross in Lahore, 9 March Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Christian families had already fled when the rioters struck

Police in the Pakistani city of Lahore have made 150 arrests after Muslims torched dozens of Christian homes in response to an allegation of blasphemy.

Government officials and emergency teams are examining the damage in the city's Joseph Colony area to see how people can be helped, police said.

The Christians had already fled their homes when the mob struck on Saturday.

Christians gathered in Lahore and Karachi, the country's biggest city, to protest at the attack.

They condemned the violence and called for better protection as well as compensation for those affected.

Christians make up about 1.6% of Pakistan's mainly Muslim population.

Allegations of blasphemy against Islam are taken very seriously with a number of controversial recent prosecutions.

Compensation

Police said two friends, a Muslim and a Christian, had apparently become involved in a drunken argument, with the former accusing the latter of a blasphemous comment.

It appears that a crowd of Muslims went from a mosque on Friday to the house of the Christian man.

The man was taken into police custody in a bid to pacify the crowd while hundreds of Christians fled their homes.

On Saturday, a mob began ransacking and burning their houses.

A police officer, Abdul Majid, said later on Saturday that one group had taken it upon themselves to dispense justice.

"Last night, after arresting the man [accused], I told everyone that I had arrested him and there was no need for any agitation but one group insisted that I should hand him over to them," he said.

"That group is responsible for all this."

Suspected rioters were arrested after police viewed TV footage of the attacks.

Pervez Rashid, a spokesman for the Punjab provincial government, told Geo television the suspects "would be tried in anti-terrorist courts".

Punjab police said four officers had been removed from their posts for "negligence".

One Christian man whose house was torched, Jani Masih, asked why innocent Christians were being punished for one man's alleged crime.

"What is our fault?" he asked AP news agency.

"What have we done? We could have been held responsible if we had done anything. This is cruel."

Christians held small rallies after the violence to demand an inquiry.

Father Peter John, from the Church of St Patrick in Karachi, urged the government to "see also that the people who are affected, their properties are burnt... get some sort of compensation".

Mr Rashid told Geo TV that each family would get 200,000 rupees ($2,050) and their homes repaired.

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