Pakistan tensions high ahead of Islamist assassin's funeral

 01 Mar 2016 - 9:47

Pakistan tensions high ahead of Islamist assassin's funeral
A Pakistani Rangers personnel stands guard during a protest against the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, an ex-police guard who had in January 2011 killed a former governor for opposing the country's blasphemy laws, after he was hanged to death, in Islamabad, Pakistan, 29 February 2016. EPA/T. MUGHAL

 

Rawalpindi, Pakistan: Hundreds of supporters of a Pakistani Islamist executed for gunning down a liberal governor gathered for his funeral Tuesday, sparking fears of violence, as police and troops threw a tight cordon around flashpoints.

Thousands of police were deployed at main junctions and sensitive buildings in the capital Islamabad and the nearby garrison city of Rawalpindi, officials said, including along the route set to be taken by Mumtaz Qadri's funeral procession. 

Roads around Qadri's home in Rawalpindi remained open, however. An AFP reporter there said up to 800 men and women had gathered as the body was placed in an ambulance to be taken to the funeral, with no security forces in sight. 

Some of the men were seen carrying sticks.

Qadri, a police bodyguard to Salman Taseer, shot the liberal Punjab governor 28 times at an Islamabad market in 2011.

He said he was angry at the politician's calls to reform the blasphemy law.

Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in the Islamic republic, and Qadri was hailed as a hero by many conservatives eager to drown out calls to soften the legislation.

Critics say the law -- which carries the death penalty -- is largely misused, with hundreds languishing in jails under false charges.

Analyst Hasan Askari has said that Islamabad, in deciding to proceed with the execution, had weighed the danger of mass violence against the need to "wash away the suspicion" of sympathy for militancy.

Thousands protested in cities across Pakistan Monday after authorities announced the hanging had taken place early that morning.

But with security stepped up at flashpoints across the country of some 200 million, most dispersed peacefully. 

"Police have been heavily deployed across the capital today," a police official in Islamabad told AFP. 

"We have manned all the main junctions close to the procession route and sensitive buildings," he said, adding that up to 3,000 officers were on the streets.

All schools and universities remained closed for the day after shutting early Monday.

A police official in Rawalpindi said similar numbers were deployed there, including hundreds brought in from other districts as well as paramilitary Rangers forces. 

Liaquat Bagh, the park in Rawalpindi where the funeral ceremony will be held, is tinged with political significance: it is where Pakistani prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in 1951, and the site of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination in 2007.

AFP