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Wednesday, 25 September, 2002, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
Fears of Pakistan's Christians
A man protests against the attacks
Protesters are demanding justice

Christian leaders in Pakistan have warned of further bloody attacks against the country's minority community if the government fails to take tougher action to "purge the roots of extremism".

The warnings come in the wake of Wednesday's killings of seven employees of a Christian charity in the Pakistani city of Karachi.

A family grieves after the attack in Karachi
A family grieves after the attack in Karachi
Although Christian leaders caution that it is too early to blame militant groups for attacks, they argue that it bears the "signs of a continuation of attacks against Christian institutions".

Samson Salamat of the Institute of Peace and Justice - the organisation whose employees were murdered - says there had already been indications that militant groups were poised to attacks Christian institutions in Karachi.

"There is no doubt that we Christians are under a great threat," he told BBC News Online. "We can expect there to be more attacks."

'Roots of extremism'

"What's happening now is an indication that the government has not done enough to crack down on extremist groups," he says.

Shahbaz Bhatti, who heads both the Christian Liberation Front and the All Pakistan Minority Alliance - a grouping of minority political parties - concurs.

He says the government has "failed to purge the roots of extremism."


Christian groups are identified with the West and extremist groups have launched attacks to avenge US-led action in Afghanistan

Shahbaz Bhatti
"On the one hand it is trying to crush terrorism by arresting extremists, but on the other, it has refused to ban extremist religious parties," he told News Online.

"[The extremists] call for a war against the infidel and for the establishment of a Taleban-style government at their public rallies."

The All Pakistan Minority Alliance plans to hold three days of mourning in protest. Christian schools and institutions will be closed and a march is planned to the United Nations building in Islamabad.

"We will be appealing to the international community for lean on the government to do more to protect the lives of Pakistan's Christians," Mr Bhatti says.

Good relations

"If it doesn't, there will be far, far greater bloodshed - maybe even genocide."

He says the minority community had become increasingly victimised since the US-led war on terror was launched after the attacks on America last September.

A policeman stands outside a Catholic Church
Security had been stepped up in Karachi in recent days
"Christian groups are identified with the West and extremist groups have launched attacks to avenge US-led action in Afghanistan," Mr Bhatti says.

He predicts that the attacks will be stepped up if there is a US-led military attack against Iraq.

During the Gulf War in 1991, churches were burnt and Christians harassed.

But Christian leaders agree that, within the general populace, relations between Muslims and Christians are good.

"The recent trouble has been caused by fanatical individuals that support al-Qaeda," the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Karachi Simeon Pereira, told us.

Otherwise, he says, there is little evidence of anti-Christian sentiment. He says the authorities have tried to protect the Christian community by posting police outside churches.

But the archbishop also fears there is more bloodshed to come.

"I have heard reports that within the next 20 days there will be more attacks on Christian institutions. We will try to defend ourselves the best we can. We don't know what will happen - we will have to trust in God.

Musharraf's Pakistan

Democracy challenge

Militant threat

Background

TALKING POINT

FROM THE ARCHIVES

BBC WORLD SERVICE
See also:

25 Sep 02 | South Asia
09 Aug 02 | South Asia
24 Sep 02 | South Asia
21 Sep 02 | South Asia
12 Sep 02 | South Asia
25 Sep 02 | South Asia
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