Churches set ablaze by mob in Pakistan

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LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – A mob set ablaze three churches, a convent and a priest’s house in Pakistan’s central Punjab province on Saturday, according to police and clergy.

Some 1,500 people took part in the attack at Sangla Hill, around 70 km west of Lahore, Catholic Archbishop Lawrence Saldanaha told a news conference.

“The attack seems to be planned and organised as the attackers were brought to the site on buses,” the archbishop said, citing reports from witnesses.

The outbreak of anti-Christian violence appeared to have been sparked by unsubstantiated accusations that a local Christian had desecrated the Koran, he said.

He said the church’s own initial investigation suggested the accusations were motivated by a dispute over money.

Akram Gill, a Christian legislator, said the dispute was due to a gambling debt owed by two Muslims to a Christian.

“They refused to pay the money and created this nuisance,” Gill said, adding that “fundamentalist elements” were fuelling anti-Christian feelings.

Around 200 Christian families have fled their homes in Sangla Hill, according to civil rights officials from the National Commission of Justice and Peace.

A police official said around 40 people had been arrested, and order had been restored in the town.

Christians account for less than three percent of Pakistan’s 150 million, mainly Muslim, population.

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Reuters, UK;br />Nov. 12, 2005 ;br />

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This post was last updated: Monday, November 30, -0001 at 12:00 AM, Central European Time (CET)