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Wednesday, 31 January, 2001, 16:01 GMT
Riots over Pakistan 'blasphemy' letter
Peshawar riot
The angry mob blocked streets in protest
Islamic students have gone on a rampage in Pakistan over an allegedly blasphemous letter published in a newspaper on Monday.

The students, belonging to the hardline Islamic Jamaat-e-Islami party, burned down a cinema and rioted on the streets of Peshawar, close to the Afghan border.

The offices of the Frontier Post newspaper were set on fire on Tuesday in anger over the letter, which criticised the Prophet Mohammad's dealing's with Jews nearly 14 centuries ago.

The country's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, has now ordered a judicial inquiry to identify those responsible for the letter.

Riot

Hundreds of Islamic students blocked roads and then attacked the cinema which they consider to be "un-Islamic".

General Musharraf
General Musharraf has appealed for calm
Reports say they ripped out seats and destroyed the screen and projecting equipment, before setting the theatre on fire.

Police fired teargas and used batons to disperse the rioters.

One report said the mob blocked the main highway leading from Peshawar to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, and forced several schools to close.

They chanted slogans such as "hang the culprits" and "blasphemy not allowed".

In a statement on Wednesday, General Musharraf appealed for calm and said the government "would not let the culprits go unpunished".

Controversy

Religious parties in Pakistan have been angered by the publication of the letter - apparently sent by e-mail - headed Why Muslims Hate Jews.

They said the letter attacked the founder of Islam, the Prophet Mohammad.

Frontier Post office, Peshawar
The Frontier Post office has been sealed
Following its publication, seven staff members of the paper, including two editors, were charged with blasphemy - an offence punishable by death in Pakistan.

The Frontier Post has since publicly apologised for publishing the letter which, they said, was part of a conspiracy against the paper and the people of Pakistan.

The editor said he suspected two disgruntled staff members may have inserted the letter in the newspaper to harm it.

Pakistan's independent Human Rights Commission has condemned the letter but said the government needed to take a stand against the riots.

"When all is said and done, it is for the administration and the courts to determine the action that needs to be taken," the Commission said.

Under Pakistani law, if anyone is accused of blasphemy, the police are obliged to register a case and make an arrest.

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See also:

30 Jan 01 | South Asia
Pakistan newspaper office attacked
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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