9 killed in Gojra riots

GOJRA (PPI/Reuters/AFP) - At least nine people were killed in armed clash between two groups and police firing on the mob here on Saturday. An angry mob marched towards a village of rival community in Tehsil Gojra District Toba Tek Singh where fierce clashes erupted between the two groups. At least nine people including six women belonging to both sides lost their lives in armed clashes and police firing. Many others were injured. On the orders of President Asif Zardari, the government sent Punjab Rangers to the riot-hit town to maintain law and order. A heavy contingent of police was also dispatched to the troubled area to bring the situation under control. The government sent Punjab Rangers to riot-hit Gojra to According to Reuters and AFP, six Christians, including four women, were burnt alive and dozens were wounded in clashes in the town, officials said, adding 40 houses and a church were also burnt over the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran in the town, officials said. Tension has been running high between the two communities in Gojra over allegations that Christians had desecrated the Holy Quran. Clashes erupted early on Saturday, with an exchange of fire from the members of the two communities. Television footage showed burning houses and streets strewn with blackened furniture and people firing at each other from their rooftops. Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti alleged a mob misled by extremists, attacked a Christian neighbourhood and torched dozens of houses. We have received six bodies of people who died of burn injuries. They included four women, one man and one child, Abdul Hamid, a Health Ministry official in the town told Reuters by telephone. Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, who is also responsible for security matters of Punjab, condemned the attack and said an inquiry had been ordered. However, he said, a preliminary investigation showed there was no desecration of the Holy Quran. It was just a rumour which was exploited by anti-state elements to create chaos, he said. I request both Muslim and Christian communities to show restraint, Sanaullah said, adding the government would take strict action against rioters and also police who failed to stop the violence. Some people blamed the Christians for the desecration of the Holy Quran, Minorities Minister Bhatti said, adding that the accusations were baseless. He did not elaborate on the alleged desecration. Police said that unrest between a group of Muslim and Christian villagers first flared late last month over a dispute over the Holy Book, which was later resolved. Tensions erupted Saturday however, when the Christian group were attacked again and their houses set on fire. Today, according to our information... this is the same issue of alleged desecration of the Holy Quran, Inkisar Khan, city police chief told reporters. All the dead are Christians. I was told that they were burned alive, Bhatti said. Television footage from the area showed police using teargas in an effort to disperse an angry mob. Online adds: Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has called Chief Minister Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif and directed him to take strict action against the persons involved in the Gojra incident. Spokesman of Prime Minister Secretariat told that Prime Minister Gilani who is currently on Karachi visit telephoned Shahbaz Sharif as soon as he got information about the incident and ordered Chief Minister to take emergency measures to stop gun-battle in Gojra. At this, Chief Minister assured Prime Minister that he had already issued directives to the concern administration and he was personally monitoring the incident. Meanwhile, a meeting of renowned and prominent ulema of the country was held under Ittehad Tanzimat Madaris Pakistan in Lahore. According to a handout issued on Saturday, the meeting was presided over by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in which a resolution was passed unanimously condemning violence in Gojra. Meanwhile, a spokesman of the Punjab government has said that the report submitted to President Zardari with regard to Gojra incident is not based on facts in which the Punjab government has been criticised unnecessarily. According to a handout, Punjab government spokesman said that unjust allegations have been levelled in the contents of this report. The spokesman further said that in fact the Rangers were called on the request of Home Department of the Punjab government.

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