Source AP ©

Pakistani Christians seek government protection

Pakistani Christians living in a town beset by pro-Taliban militants sought government protection , a day before the expiry of an ultimatum warning them to convert.

About 500 Christians in Charsadda, a town in North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan, received threatening letters earlier this month telling them to shutter their churches and convert to Islam by May 17 or face "bomb explosions."

Community leaders say several Christians a tiny minority in predominantly Muslim Pakistan  have fled the town and that others are living in fear.

Chaudhry Salim, a Christian leader in Charsadda, said police had not taken the threat seriously.

"Police say someone is joking with us by writing these letters," Salim said at a news conference in the capital. "They have deployed only two policemen at our churches ... this is the kind of security we are getting now."

Shahbaz Bhatti, a prominent Christian leader and head of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, said the provincial government, which is controlled by a coalition of pro-Taliban religious parties, would carry the blame for any attacks after the deadline.

Bhatti also urged Muslim religious scholars to condemn the authors of the threat and said the federal government should take "concrete steps to provide protection" to Christians "because the militants have warned that they would target our people with bombs if we didn't follow their instructions."

Asif Daudzai, a spokesman for the provincial government, asked Christians not to panic, saying authorities were doing all they can to ensure their protection.

"Christians are our brothers and sisters, and we will not allow any one to harm them," he told The Associated Press.

Christians and other minorities like Hindu and Sikhs make up about 3 percent of Pakistan's population of about 160 million. Most live peacefully alongside the Muslim majority. However, they have been targeted repeatedly in attacks blamed on extremists since Pakistan allied with the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Islamic radicals trying to impose Taliban-style social edicts in northwestern Pakistan are growing bolder, bombing shops selling Western films, threatening barbers for trimming beards and warning hotel operators to remove television sets from guest rooms.

Minorities and secular opposition parties complain that the government is doing too little to counter the "Talibanization" of ever-greater swaths of the country.

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