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The BBC's Susannah Price in Islamabad
The letter has prompted an outcry among Pakistan's religious parties
 real 28k

Tuesday, 30 January, 2001, 10:34 GMT
Pakistan newspaper office attacked
Protesters
The controversial letter has enraged Islamic activists
The offices of a Pakistani newspaper have been attacked after it published a letter alleged to be derogatory towards Islam.

Hundreds of Islamic protesters ransacked the offices of the English-language Frontier Post newspaper in Peshawar, in the North West Frontier Province.


We... beg pardon from the Muslim Ummah (nation) from the depths of our heart

Frontier Post advertisement
On Monday, the Post's offices were sealed following the publication of the letter which attacked the founder of Islam, the Prophet Mohammed.

Seven staff members, including two editors, were charged with blasphemy - an offence punishable by death in Pakistan.

Student activists belonging to the hardline Islamic Jamaat-e-Islami party stormed the newspaper building after gathering at a nearby mosque.

Newsprint rolls and machinery inside the premises were set on fire while riot police watched.

"The press has been totally gutted," the AFP news agency quoted an eyewitness as saying.

Students at the nearby Peshawar University also held demonstrations against the newspaper and demanded its editors to be executed.

Roads were blocked and traffic diverted as the protesters marched through the city, which is close to the Afghan border.

Apology

On Tuesday the Frontier Post carried large advertisements in national dailies apologising for publishing the controversial letter.

"We once again beg pardon from the Muslim Ummah (nation) from the depths of our heart," the advertisements said.

General Musharraf
General Musharraf tried to change the blasphemy law
The paper said the letter was the outcome of a conspiracy against it as well as the people and government of Pakistan.

The letter, apparently sent by e-mail from an unknown place, was headed Why Muslims Hate Jews.

Peshawar's district magistrate issued a statement saying the letter was highly objectionable and hurt the feelings of Muslims.

The Frontier Post's managing editor, Mahmood Afridi, said the publication of the letter was a mistake which he regretted.

The country's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, also condemned the letter.

"The government will not allow publication of such objectionable material," the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan quoted him as saying.

Pakistan has extremely stringent blasphemy laws which mean if someone is accused of blaspheming, the police are obliged to register a case and make an arrest.

General Musharraf had said he would change the laws which human rights workers said were used against religious minorities.

However, he later decided against this, apparently under pressure from Islamic groups.

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See also:

10 Jan 01 | South Asia
Karachi police break up blasphemy rally
05 Aug 00 | South Asia
Pakistani 'prophet' sentenced to death
17 May 00 | South Asia
Pakistan's blasphemy law U-turn
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