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- Dubai 04:53 06:07 12:12 15:35 18:11 19:25
Allies of Pakistan's assassinated liberal politician Salman Taseer Thursday alluded to his killing as part of a wider plot, slamming security failures that saw his bodyguard charged with murder.
Pakistan's most high-profile political assassination in three years has bitterly divided the country, horrifying moderates but winning praise from religious scholars and lawyers who festooned the presumed killer in garlands.
A member of an elite commando responsible for protecting Taseer confessed to killing him in broad daylight outside an Islamabad cafe to silence his efforts to reform laws that make defaming the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) punishable by death.
But Taseer's political allies suggest Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, pictured grinning after allegedly pumping nearly 30 bullets into Taseer's body, acted as part of a wider conspiracy and accused police of a cover-up.
"The martyrdom of Mr Salman Taseer is a conspiracy against Pakistan and Pakistani institutions," said Imtiaz Safdar Warraich, a junior cabinet minister in the main ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), to which Taseer belonged.
"The people behind this assassination should be exposed immediately... There was a serious security lapse," he said.
Questions have been asked about why no policeman or guard apparently made an attempt to overpower the 26-year-old shooter.
"A former regional police officer had declared the constable a security risk 18 months ago and directed that he not be assigned VIP duty," Warraich said.
"Telling colleagues about his (Qadri's) intention, asking to be arrested alive and the silent spectator role of policemen deployed at the crime scene raise too many questions."
PPP Law Minister Babar Awan criticised a "huge criminal security failure".
"The protection of the constitutional head of a province was entrusted to murderers. Why were those declared a security risk assigned to VIP duty?"
Interior Minister Rehman Malik alluded to a wider conspiracy to destablise nuclear-armed Pakistan, which is on the front line of the US-led war on Al-Qaeda and where bomb attacks have killed 4,000 people since July 2007.
"We know how much money is being pumped in (to destablise the country) and if we don't act wisely it will explode like a bomb and we won't be able to face the consequences," Malik said.
He called on religious scholars, lawyers and members of the public to "act responsibly" after Qadri was publicly showered with rose petals and kisses before being charged with murder, terrorism and violence on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Qadri was brought by armoured car to a makeshift anti-terrorism court set up in a municipal building in Islamabad, TV footage showed.
Qadri had been due to appear before an anti-terror court in the neighbouring city of Rawalpindi, but the location was changed for security reasons.
A crowd of about 300 lawyers and madrassa students steadily grew outside the Rawalpindi court, shouting their support for Qadri, an AFP reporter said.
A leading mainstream Sunni Muslim group of 500 scholars and clerics has praised Qadri and warned other politicians of the same fate if they spoke out against blasphemy laws, which rights campaigners say fuels Islamist extremism.
Taseer refused to back off his calls to reform the laws despite threats to his life and the PPP-led government issuing a public statement saying they would not amend the legislation, in the face of a national strike.
Taseer also called for clemency for a Christian mother-of-five sentenced to death under the legislation last November.
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