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Grief-Stricken Pakistanis Bury Slain Minister


Female Pakistani Christians mourn the death of Shahbaz Bhatti, during a rally in his native town Khushpur near Faisalabad, Pakistan, March 4, 2011

Female Pakistani Christians mourn the death of Shahbaz Bhatti, during a rally in his native town Khushpur near Faisalabad, Pakistan, March 4, 2011

Mourners packed a church in Pakistan's capital Friday to pay tribute to the minister for minorities who was assassinated for challenging Pakistan's blasphemy law.

Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of the federal Cabinet, was gunned down Wednesday near his home in Islamabad. The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying they killed the minister because he opposed legislation that imposes the death penalty for insulting Islam.

During Bhatti's funeral mass, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani vowed to "bring the culprits to justice." Demonstrators outside the Islamabad church also demanded punishment for the minister's killers.

Bhatti's body was taken to his ancestral village of Khushpur for burial. There, thousands crowded the streets, demanding justice.

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Bhatti is the second high profile official to be killed recently for supporting reforms to the blasphemy law. Punjab province's governor, Salman Taseer, was shot dead in January by one of his bodyguards, who cited the politician's opposition to the controversial legislation as justification for the killing. Bhatti and Taseer's assassinations have drawn international condemnation.

Christians are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in Pakistan, making up about 5 percent of the population.

President Asif Ali Zardari did not attend the mass or the burial.

Security was tightened in both Islamabad and Khushpur.

Meanwhile, some Pakistani lawmakers called for Interior Minister Rehman Malik's resignation on Friday, saying the government failed to protect Bhatti.

Bhatti did not have his security detail with him when he was attacked Wednesday.

Interior Minister Malik said he is willing to step down if investigators determine there was a lapse in security.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.

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