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Christian politician killed by Pakistani gunmen

Farooq Naeem / AFP - Getty Images

Unidentified relatives of slain Pakistani Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti react as they inspect his bullet-riddled car following an attack in Islamabad on Wednesday, March 2. Gunmen shot dead a Catholic Pakistani government minister on Wednesday after he vowed to defy death threats following the murder of another politician opposed to an Islamic blasphemy law.

Irfan Haider / AP

Police officers and paramedics transport the body of Pakistan's government minister for religious minorities Shahbaz Bhatti at a local hospital in Islamabad on Wednesday.

Anjum Naveed / AP

A supporter of Pakistan's government minister for religious minorities Shahbaz Bhatti shout slogans outside a local hospital in Islamabad on Wednesday.

Faisal Mahmood / Reuters

Supporters of assassinated Pakistani Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti touch the ambulance carrying his body from hospital in Islamabad on Wednesday. Bhatti, Pakistan's only Christian government minister, was shot dead on Wednesday by gunmen, making him the second senior official to be killed this year for challenging a blasphemy law that mandates the death penalty for insulting Islam.

Farooq Naeem / AFP - Getty Images

Pakistani Christian women mourn the death of minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad on Wednesday.

The AP reports:

Gunmen shot and killed Pakistan's government minister for religious minorities on Wednesday, the latest attack on a high-profile Pakistani figure threatened by Islamist militants for urging reform of harsh blasphemy laws that impose the death penalty for insulting Islam.

The killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, a member of Pakistan's Christian community, was another major blow to Pakistan's besieged liberals, who say the attacks are a symptom of an increasingly radicalized Muslim-majority public. Earlier this year, Punjab province Gov. Salman Taseer was killed by a bodyguard who said he was angry that the politician opposed the blasphemy laws — and many ordinary Pakistanis praised the murderer.

Bhatti was on his way to work in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, when gunmen riddled his car with bullets, police officer Mohmmad Iqbal said. The minister arrived dead at Shifa Hospital and his driver was also wounded badly, hospital spokesman Asmatullah Qureshi said.

Pakistan’s minorities gripped by fear and despair

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but private Pakistani TV channels showed pamphlets at the scene of the killing that were attributed to the Pakistani Taliban warning of the same fate for anyone opposing the blasphemy laws.