PAKISTAN & NIGERIA: ANTI-CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE ESCALATING

'Cartoon Intifada' violence has erupted in Pakistan and Northern Nigeria. Because Islamic zeal has escalated, other minor religious issues have quickly become excuses for violent Islamic pogroms against Christians. This RLP is a little longer than usual to cover both these urgent situations.

PAKISTAN

On 14 February Muslims rioted across Pakistan protesting over the Danish Mohammad cartoons. Two demonstrators died whilst countless others were injured in a 15,000-strong rally in Lahore. In Islamabad, rioters fought through police lines to storm the Diplomatic Enclave. Stopped from entering Islamabad, the religious parties of North West Frontier Province led protests in Peshawar, where two more died. Thousands of students marching to the Diplomatic Enclave blocked the Kashmir Highway, burning tyres and effigies. Western fast-food outlets, a Norwegian mobile-phone outlet and two cinemas were torched. Some 50 mostly opposition members of the National Assembly staged a protest march from Parliament House to the Foreign Office shouting, 'Allah-o-Akbar. We are ready to sacrifice our lives for Prophet Muhammad.'

Christian properties targeted in Peshawar included Edward College on 13 February when some 7000 protesters smashed windows throughout this century-old college run by Christian missionaries. On 15 February, protesters damaged St Michael's Convent School, St Elizabeth Girls' College, and a Mission Hospital run by the Church of Pakistan. A Christian Girls' School run by the United Presbyterian Church in Kasur, 40km from Lahore, was also attacked.

On 3 February a church in Kawanwali, Sialkot, was attacked; its windows were smashed and its Bible desecrated. Two women there were assaulted: Salima Bibi (50), and Veero Bibi (70) who suffered fractured legs and back injuries. On 19 February in the southern province of Sindh two churches, Pastor Ilyas Saeed Masih's home and a convent school were burnt by a mob of some 500 Muslims, angrily protesting a rumour that a Quran had been desecrated. According to Compass Direct, a Muslim was arrested later that day for allegedly burning pages of the Quran and trying to frame his Christian father- in-law (with whom he had a property dispute) with the crime.

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NIGERIA

On Saturday 18 February Muslims in Maiduguri, capital of north- eastern Borno state, gathered in Ramat square to protest the Danish Mohammad cartoons. When they refused the police order to disperse, the police fired teargas into the crowd. The Muslims erupted in fury, rampaging, targeting known Christians and anyone who could not speak the local dialect. (That meant they were probably Igbo immigrants and Christian, rather than local Hausa and Muslim.) They torched Christian-owned shops, cars and churches. Fifteen believers and their priest were murdered inside St Rita's Catholic Church.

According to local Christian leaders who spoke to Compass Direct, 31 churches were burnt and at least 50 believers were murdered, and Reuters reports that some 200 shops, 50 houses and 100 vehicles were torched or vandalised.

Rioting also erupted in Katsina state, north-central Nigeria, allegedly over a rumour that some supporters of President Obasanjo (a Christian) were wanting to amend the Constitution so he could stand for a third term. The Red Cross reported seven deaths. On Monday 20 February violence broke out in the north-eastern state of Bauchi. Reuters reports, 'Residents said trouble began after a teacher in a secondary school tried to confiscate a Quran from a student who was reading it during class. Word got out into the streets that the teacher had desecrated the Quran.' In the subsequent Islamic pogrom, 18 people were killed, more than 60 injured were hospitalised and two churches were burnt before police gained control.

On Tuesday 21 February a bus from the north arrived in the southern city of Onitsha, the capital of the substantially Christian state of Anambra, bearing the corpses of Christian Igbos killed in Maiduguri on 18 February. Igbos in Onitsha responded by unleashing bloody reprisals on local Hausa Muslims. At least 35 were killed and several mosques were burned.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* those responsible for this violence – the international Islamic organisations that incite rage, local militants who organise pogroms and governments that permit them – to be exposed and justly held accountable for the resultant death and destruction.

* local, state and national leaders to use their God-given authority to maintain law and order, defend the vulnerable and promote civilised responses. 'The king's heart is in the hands of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.' Proverbs 21:1

* peace and comfort for the families grieving the brutal murders of their loved ones in Nigeria, especially in Maiduguri where around 50 believers were murdered; for grace to forgive.

* great courage and wisdom for Christian leaders, teachers, advocates and pastors in the traumatised, terrorised minority Christian communities of Pakistan and Nigeria; may they be channels of God's peace and wisdom.

* God to pour a restraining spirit of peace and conviction of sin over all these troubled lands.

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ANTI-CHRISTIAN VIOLENCE ESCALATING IN PAKISTAN & NIGERIA

'Cartoon Intifada' violence has erupted in Pakistan and Northern Nigeria. As Islamic zeal has escalated, other minor religious issues have quickly become excuses for violent pogroms. During 13 to 15 February, Muslims protested across Pakistan and rioters vandalised several Christian schools in Peshawar and Lahore. On 19 February, a rumor that a Quran had been desecrated unleashed a pogrom in Karachi that left two churches burnt. In Nigeria, riots in three northern cities have been the costliest and deadliest yet for Christians. The most devastating rampage was in Maiduguri, Borno state, where some 30 churches were razed and 50 Christians brutally murdered on 18 February. On 21 February Igbo-Christians in the southern city of Onitsha, Anambra state, launched reprisals on their Hausa-Muslim northerner neighbours. More than 35 were killed and two mosques were burnt. Pray for peace and justice.