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Pakistan's under-fire minorities have little faith in democracy

Anja Niedringhaus / AP

Ahmedi guards protecting an Ahmedi mosque in Lahore, Pakistan on April 30, 2013. Ahmedis are reviled by mainstream Muslims as heretics because they believe a prophet followed Mohammed, defying the basic tenet of Islam that says Mohammed is the last prophet.

Lahore, Pakistan — In majority Muslim Pakistan, religious minorities say democracy is killing them.

Intolerance has been on the rise for the past five years under Pakistan's democratically elected government because of the growing violence of Islamic radicals, who are then courted by political parties, say many in the country's communities of Shiite Muslims, Christians, Hindus and other minorities.

On Saturday, the country will elect a new parliament, marking the first time one elected government is replaced by another in the history of Pakistan, which over its 66-year existence has repeatedly seen military rule. But minorities are not celebrating. Some of the fiercest Islamic extremists are candidates in the vote, and minorities say even the mainstream political parties pander to radicals to get votes, often campaigning side-by-side with well-known militants.

Anja Niedringhaus / AP

Ahmedis praying in their mosque, which displays an Arabic sign saying 'In the name of god, people are praying', in Lahore on April 30, 2013.

Anja Niedringhaus / AP

A Shiite worshipper at a shrine in Jhang on May 1, 2013. Minority Shiites in Pakistan have little hope that the May 11 general elections will help them because they fear Sunni radicals, who have targeted Shiites, could gain political strength.

About 96 percent of Pakistan's population of 180 million is Muslim. Most are Sunni, but according to the CIA Factbook about 10 to 15 percent are members of the Shiite sect. The remaining 4 percent are adherents to other religions such as Christians, Hindus and Ahmedis.

More than a dozen representatives of Pakistan's minorities interviewed by The Associated Press expressed fears the vote will only hand more influence to extremists. Since the 2008 elections, sectarian attacks have been relentless and minorities have found themselves increasingly targeted by radical Islamic militants. Minorities have little faith the new election will change that. Read the full story.

Anja Niedringhaus / AP

A Christian woman peering out from inside a church as angry Christians protest the beating of a young man from the Joseph Colony, a Christian neighborhood in Lahore, on April 30, 2013.

Anja Niedringhaus / AP

Barber Elias, 25, a Christian who was injured when he was beaten by radical Muslims, in the Joseph Colony in Lahore on April 30, 2013.

Anja Niedringhaus / AP

Christians protesting the beating of a young Christian belonging to the Joseph Colony, in Lahore on April 30, 2013.

Anja Niedringhaus / AP

A Christian repairing his home after it was attacked by radical Muslims, in the Joseph Colony in Lahore on April 30, 2013.

Anja Niedringhaus / AP

Homeless Hindus sleeping in a shrine cared for by Omparkarh Narian, 55, in Rawalpindi on May 4, 2013.

Asif Hassan / AFP - Getty Images

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