Thousands turn out for Shahbaz Bhatti’s funeral

Security is tight across Pakistan today following the funeral of slain Minister for Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti.

Roads were closed around the Catholic church of Our Lady of Fatima in Islamabad, where the funeral took place this morning.

His body will later be transported to his home village of Khushpur in Punjab for burial.

The funeral was attended by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, other government officials and foreign diplomats, and thousands of members of the public.

Addressing mourners during the service, the Prime Minister praised Bhatti and promised that the government would do its "utmost" to catch his killers.

He said: "People like him, they are very rare. All the minorities have lost a great leader. I assure you, we will try our utmost to bring the culprits to justice."

Many of the mourners at the funeral were Christians who have been distraught since Bhatti was murdered by gunmen in an ambush on his car on Wednesday.

Christians have taken to the streets across the Pakistan to mourn his death and protest against the discrimination they are facing on a daily basis.

Much of the persecution is rooted in the blasphemy laws, which make insulting Islam punishable by death.

Bhatti, the only Christian minister in the Pakistani parliament, was an outspoken critic of the blasphemy laws and had been campaigning for their reform.

According to AsiaNews, thousands of people are already gathered in Khushpur to pay their final respects to Bhatti.

The government and the church in Pakistan have both declared three days of mourning for the minister.

Bhatti is the second government minister to be murdered this year over his support for reform to the blasphemy laws. In January, the Governor of Punjab Salmaan Taseer was shot dead by his own bodyguard because he had spoken up in support of changes to the blasphemy laws.

Human rights groups say the blasphemy laws are being misused by extremists to settle personal scores or seize property or businesses.

The government, meanwhile, has been accused of pandering to extremists by refusing to review the blasphemy laws.

Bhatti’s murder has prompted fresh demands upon the government to address the blasphemy laws and security provision for Christians.

Release International chief executive Andy Dipper said: “Pakistan’s Christian minority – already under threat from religious extremism – are feeling even more vulnerable today.

“The Pakistan government must act to curb extremism and step up security for Christians.”