Punjab governor, critic of Islamist militancy, killed by guard (Second Lead)

January 4th, 2011 - 9:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Yousuf Raza Gilani Islamabad, Jan 4 (IANS) Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, a vocal critic of Islamist militancy in Pakistan and a confidant of President Asif Ali Zardari, was shot dead in a posh area here by one of his guards who said he killed him for opposing blasphemy laws.Guard Mumtaz Quadri, who belonged to an elite security agency, gave himself up to the authorities after gunning down the politician he was supposed to protect as the victim walked towards his car from a cafe in F6 sector frequented by foreigners and wealthy Pakistanis.

Taseer, who married and divorced Indian journalist Tavleen Singh after fathering a son, collapsed as nine bullets tore into him, including some which pierced his chest and neck.

The shooting sparked counter firing by other guards, reportedly wounding five people, the Dawn newspaper said.

The profusely bleeding governor was rushed to the nearby Poly Clinic but succumbed to his injuries, his spokesman Ishtiaq Amin said.

Dawn quoted witnesses as saying that a man from the security squad fired at him from close range. He was later identified as Quadri, who had been recruited into the elite force in 2002.

The unrepentant killer told police that he shot the governor because he had called Pakistan’s blasphemy laws as “black law”.

Taseer, who was close to the Bhutto family, was already married when he met Tavleen Singh in 1980 in New Delhi.

On Tuesday, the journalist told IANS: “You should not be calling me on a day like this.”

Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed that the killer guard had been arrested and the man had confessed that he carried out the assassination over Taseer’s support to Aasia Bibi, a woman charged with blasphemy.

Aasia Bibi had been sentenced to death for allegedly passing derogatory remarks about a Muslim prophet. The governor had urged President Zardari to pardon her.

A leader of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Taseer was a strong supporter of Zardari.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani announced three days of state mourning. The PPP cancelled all party functions and said it would mourn the death for 15 days.

Taseer’s outspoken defence of Aasia Bibi had earned him death threats. Pakistani officials said they were trying to find out if the guard acted on his own or was backed by others.

Taseer’s body is to be flown to Lahore, capital of the Punjab province, after post-mortem.

Police sources said that security had been heightened at sensitive locations in Islamabad and that profiles of those protecting VIPs were being scanned again.

Taseer was appointed the governor of Punjab province in what was widely viewed as a move to destabilize Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, brother of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

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