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Gunmen kill Christian Pakistan government minister

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By Associated Press

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Assailants purportedly sent by al-Qaida and the Taliban killed the only Christian member of Pakistan's federal Cabinet Wednesday, spraying his car with bullets outside his mother's home. It was the second assassination in two months of a high-profile opponent of blasphemy laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.

Shahbaz Bhatti, a 42-year-old Roman Catholic, had been aware of the danger, saying in a video-taped message meant for broadcast in the event of his death that he was being threatened by the Taliban and al-Qaida. The threats would not deter him from speaking for persecuted Christians and other minorities, he said. "I will die to defend their rights," he said on the tape released Wednesday.

His assassination further undermines Pakistan's shaky image as a moderate Islamic state and could deepen the political turmoil in this nuclear-armed, U.S.-allied state where militants frequently stage suicide attacks. The Vatican said the slaying shows that the pope's warnings about the danger to Christians in the region are fully justified.


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