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Pak governor Taseer assassinated by security guard

Last updated on: January 4, 2011 21:06 IST

Pak governor Taseer assassinated by security guard

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Salmaan Taseer, governor of Pakistan's powerful Punjab province and a key aide of President Asif Ali Zardari, was on Tuesday assassinated in Islamabad by one of his security guards who was angered by his opposition to a controversial blasphemy law.

Taseer, 66, a senior leader of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, was getting into his car at Kohsar Market in Islamabad's posh Sector F-6/3 when the guard from the elite force of Punjab police shot him with an automatic weapon at a close range, officials said, adding that the governor was hit by nine bullets and sustained severe injuries to the neck and chest.

The governor was rushed to the Polyclinic Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries, his spokesman Farrukh Shah said.

Doctors made an unsuccessful attempt to revive him before declaring him dead. Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters in Karachi that the guard named Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, who belonged to Rawalpindi, had surrendered after shooting the governor.

 


Image: A policeman signals to the media to keep away from the site where the governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer was shot dead in Islamabad
Photographs: Adrees Latif/Reuters
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Taseer had openly opposed the blasphemy law

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"When the governor was getting into his car, the guard shot him. After firing, he put down his weapon and surrendered to the police, saying he had shot (Taseer) because he called the blasphemy law a black law," Malik said.

"That is what the bodyguard says but we will hold thorough investigations and find out if this was the real reason for the assassination of the governor," he said.

All members of the elite force who were guarding Taseer had been detained, but only Qadri was formally arrested on the basis of his confession, Malik said. TV channels beamed photographs of Qadri being taken away in a police van.

"It's difficult (to prevent such attacks) when it's someone from within your own circle. We will probe whether it was an individual act or someone got him to kill (the governor)," Malik said.

Taseer had openly opposed the blasphemy law, which was introduced during the tenure of late president Zia-ul-Haq, and campaigned for the pardon of Asia Bibi, a 45-year-old Christian woman and mother of five, who was sentenced to death after being convicted for insulting Prophet Mohammad.


Image: A file photo of Salman Taseer
Photographs: Faisal Mahmoo/Reuters
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'We have lost a dear friend'

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The colourful governor, who often used Twitter to express his opinion, had tweeted some days ago that he would continue to speak out against the blasphemy law despite backslash from hardliners and religious elements. Taseer's killing was the most high-profile assassination of a political leader in Pakistan since the murder of former premier Benazir Bhutto in December 2007.

TV reports showed a pool of blood and several empty cartridges lying at the spot where Taseer was shot. The police also detained six other persons at the market and took them to an undisclosed location.

Malik said providing security to the governor was the responsibility of the Punjab government. It was also their responsibility to screen all those police officers who were deputed for the security of the provincial government officials and ministers.

When asked about a recent intelligence report which warned that all such persons with radical and religious backgrounds should be removed from the teams providing security to VIPs, Malik said, "We will find out if the Punjab government had acted on this report."

"We have lost a dear friend, a great human being and a politician of great standing today," the interior minister said.

Taseer was a close aide of Zardari, who condemned the assassination and directed Malik to personally supervise the investigation into the killing and report to him urgently.

Hundreds of PPP workers organised demonstrations across Punjab to protest the assassination of Taseer.


Image: A policeman surveys the site where Salman Taseer was shot dead
Photographs: Adrees Latif/Reuters
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Taseer spoke out against Asia's sentencing

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The President was informed about the assassination during a meeting with PPP leaders in Karachi. Describing the crime as 'most ghastly', Zardari said no words were strong enough to condemn it.

"The perpetrators of this heinous crime must be punished," he said.

Taseer was the first to speak out against Asia's sentencing and had vowed to ensure that the Christian woman was pardoned.

Under the blasphemy law, any person who is accused of making derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammad can be sentenced to death. Civil and human rights activists say the law is being used to prosecute minorities and settle old enmities.

Taseer is survived by wife Amna and their six children. He also has a son with noted Indian journalist Tavleen Singh.

The Pakistan government has announced three days of mourning for Taseer.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also issued orders for a state funeral for Taseer and said he would be laid to rest with full state honours.

The national flag will remain at half mast during the period of mourning as a mark of respect for the slain governor.


Image: A policeman cordons off the site where Salman Taseer was shot dead in Islamabad
Photographs: Adrees Latif/Reuters
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