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Pakistani Christian community attacked after blasphemy accusation

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Adds arrests in paragraph 6

By Mubasher Bukhari

LAHORE, Pakistan, May 25 (Reuters) -At least 10 members of a minority Christian community were rescued on Saturday after a Muslim crowd attacked their settlement on a blasphemy accusation ineastern Pakistan, police and a community leader said.

The crowd, which accused the Christian group of blasphemy, also hurled stones and bricks at the police, said Shariq Kamal, the police chief of Sargodha district.

At least one house and a small shoe factory was set on fire by protesters who had gathered after neighbours alleged that the Muslim holy book, the Koran, had been desecrated by a minority community member, according to a police spokesman and Akmal Bhatti, a Christian leader.

"They burned one house" and several Christians were badly beaten, Bhatti said.

A large contingent of police cordoned off the settlement, Kamal said, adding that the crowd had been pushed back. One member of the Christian community who was taken to hospital was later said to be in a stable condition.

Some 25 of the protesters have been arrested, said police official Assad Malhi, adding that 11 police officers suffered injuries during the operation to rescue the Christian community members from the crowd.

The situation had calmed down by late evening, with leaders from both sides calling for peace, police said.

A Christian rights group - Minority Rights March - said a 70-year-old man accused of the blasphemy was beaten and dragged bythe mob.

It said video footage showed that the police did not intervene. The police have denied the claim.

Videos posted on social media showed protesters looting items from burning properties. Others were seen throwing the items in a heap on fire in a street.

Bhatti said the videos were images from the scene.

Reuters could not independently verify the pictures.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said the Christian community was "at grave risk to their lives at the hands of the charged mobs".

Blasphemy is a sensitive subject in conservative Muslim- majority Pakistan, where just an accusation can lead to a street lynching.

Human rights groups say Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws are often misused to settle personal scores.

While blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan, no one has been executed by the state for it, though numerous accused have been lynched by outraged mobs.

A Muslim crowd attacked a Christian community in eastern Pakistan last year, vandalising several churches and setting scores of houses on fire after accusing two of its members of desecrating the Koran.

Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Mike Harrison and David Gregorio


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